South Korea to conduct year-long environmental assessment on Thaad site

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is seen in Seongju, South Korea, on June 13, 2017.
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is seen in Seongju, South Korea, on June 13, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL - South Korea will conduct a year-long environmental impact assessment on the site where the controversial US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) missile defence system is to be deployed, Yonhap news agency reported.

The plan was announced by South Korea's Ministry of Defence on Friday (July 28).

"It's hard to talk about an exact timeline, as it depends on consultations with the US side and other elements," a ministry official told reporters, according to Yonhap. "Usually, it takes 10 to 15 months to complete such a process."

The government will make a final decision on whether to install the Thaad system at the site after the completion of the assessment, Xinhua news agency reported.

A small environmental audit on the site has been launched since December 2016, covering 328,799 sq m of land. The total area is 1.48 million sq m, according Xinhua.

The site, a former golf course in Seongju, some 300km south-east of the capital Seoul, was previously owned by South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group. The company agreed to a land-swop deal with the government that allows the latter to host the Thaad battery on the site.

Part of the Thaad system was transported in the middle of the night to the former golf course on April 26, about two weeks before the South Korean presidential by-election.

While South Korea and the US have stressed that Thaad is aimed only at defending against North Korean missiles, China is against it, saying that the system's powerful radar is a threat to its security.

The system has attracted a furious campaign of economic sanctions and diplomatic protests by Beijing.

In June this year, further deployment of the system was suspended until an environmental impact assessment ordered by the newly-elected President Moon Jae In is completed.

The decision was a domestic measure to ensure a democratic process, said the country's top national security adviser.

On Friday, a South Korean defence ministry official stressed that the new year-long environmental assessment at the site does not mean a reversal of the "alliance decision" with the US. Rather, it is about enhancing the "procedural justification" domestically, Yonhap reported.

Residents in Seongju had voiced their unhappiness about the government's decision, calling for the Thaad operations to be suspended. They said the system poses health and environmental hazards and argued that its presence could make them a priority target for North Korea.