The South Korean president’s office has declared that nearly 2 tonnes of prized pine mushrooms that were a gift from Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, are safe to consume after an opposition politician warned the mushrooms could be contaminated with radioactive fallout from the North’s nuclear tests.
The mushrooms were sent to Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, after the two leaders’ summit in Pyongyang in September. Mr Moon, in turn, said he would donate the gift to 4,000 people who have not been able to see their relatives in the North since the end of the three-year Korean War in 1953.
With a thick white stem and a brown cap, the mushrooms are considered a delicacy and there were reports ahead of the summit that officials in Pyongyang had ordered residents of North Hamgyong Province to scour hillsides for the finest examples of the fungus.
Quoting sources inside North Korea, the DailyNK web site reported that the authorities were exchanging 22 lbs of flour (worth £5.70 – a considerable sum inside one of the poorest countries on Earth) for 2.2 lbs of mushrooms. The authorities were also bartering sugar and rubber boots for mushrooms.
As well as being famous for its annual crop of pine mushrooms, North Hamgyong is also the site of the Musudan-ri rocket launch facility and the regime’s Punggye-ri nuclear proving grounds.
Underground tests have been conducted at the site on six occasions, the most recent in September 2017. That test was of a thermonuclear device, the North Korean government claimed, and registered on seismic monitors as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
A second seismic event a couple of minutes after the detonation is believed to have been the cavity caused by the initial blast collapsing and there have been reports that radioactivity subsequently escaped into the atmosphere.
Defectors last year claimed that women in the region were giving birth to deformed babies.
Concerned that the gift from the North Korean leader was potentially harmful to anyone who consumed the mushrooms, an opposition politician demanded that they be tested.
In a statement, the presidential Blue House on Wednesday declared that the radiation detected in the mushrooms was at levels similar to other food available in South Korean supermarkets and well below permissible levels set by the International Atomic Energy Agency.