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THAAD deployment may gain momentum

A government official measures electromagnetic radiation from a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, Saturday. The small-scale environmental impact study, conducted by the defense and environment ministries, found the electromagnetic radiation and noise levels were within legal limits. / Yonhap

By Kim Hyo-jin

The Moon Jae-in government is expected to accelerate the tentative deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in the southeastern county of Seongju, following positive interim results of a small-scale environmental impact study Saturday.

The defense and environment ministries conducted a joint on-spot survey of electromagnetic radiation and noise from the battery that showed both levels were within legal standards, they said.

According to the defense ministry, a momentary maximum level of electromagnetic radiation was at 0.046 watts, one-200th of the permissible level of 10 watts per square meter. The noise level was around 50 decibels ― a legal standard allowed during daytime in a residential area.

The results could give momentum to the installation of four additional launchers of the THAAD unit because the results showed there uncovered no potential health risks, as protesters in Seongju had claimed.

Two rocket launchers and an X-band radar are operating at the deployment site after the former Park Geun-hye administration had them installed.

Citing procedural flaws, Moon halted the full deployment and initially planned to install the remaining four launchers after a full-scale environment impact survey.

But he ordered consultation with the U.S. for temporary installment after Pyongyang's intercontinental ballistic missile test late last month.

While the full-scale environment assessment will be conducted as scheduled, Saturday's survey results still would give the government legitimacy for temporary deployment, ministry officials said.

Meanwhile, in an apparent effort to mitigate residents' protests, Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal, commander of the Eighth U.S. Army, who accompanied the ministry officials to Seongju for the on-spot assessment, apologized to residents on behalf of a U.S. soldier whose behavior caused controversy.

The unidentified soldier grinned while using his mobile phone to film residents protesting THAAD in April when part of the unit was being carried into the town. This angered the protesters more.

Meanwhile, Seongju residents said they could not accept the results of such a small-scale survey because the government did not make public the detailed measurement process. They also refused to accept Vandal's apology, saying that after four months, the apology was meaningless.

In response, the government said it was ready to redo the tests under residents' supervision if they wished. The protesters earlier declined to participate in the survey.

Despite ongoing protest, expectation is high that the government can wait no longer amid the increasing missile threats from North Korea, especially after its threat to launch a missile strike near the U.S. territory of Guam.

A ruling party official said, "The government, although it is seeking understanding of residents as much as possible, cannot postpone the deployment any longer given the situation. The efforts to persuade the protesters are in a near final phase."

The small-scale environmental impact study was to verify the results of an earlier evaluation by a local contractor submitted to the defense ministry, which also found no health risk.

If the environment ministry gave permission after an additional study as part of the small-scale assessment, the defense ministry will start reinforcing the ground for the existing two launchers and facilities for U.S. Forces Korea, Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk told reporters Saturday.

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