Concerns over Radiation Risks from US Army's THAAD Radar in South Korea

The US Army's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system has faced persistent opposition since its deployment to South Korea in 2017. Local residents, particularly those in Seongju County, where the THAAD system is installed, have voiced health concerns about the radar's electromagnetic radiation emissions. These fears have been fueled by the US military's dismissal of protests against the system as unacceptable and calls for faster progress in establishing the base.

The THAAD system is billed as an anti-missile defense system, but its efficacy in countering incoming North Korean missiles is questionable. Its missiles are designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles at an altitude of 40 to 150 kilometers, but this would give the system less than three and a half minutes to detect and counter-launch against a high-altitude ballistic missile fired from the farthest point in North Korea. Moreover, the THAAD battery would quickly deplete its limited supply of interceptor missiles, making it unlikely to provide a meaningful defense in a war scenario.

The US military attaches significant importance to THAAD's deployment in South Korea, which suggests that its primary purpose is not to defend against North Korean missiles. Instead, the radar in the THAAD system is a first-strike weapon, collecting tracking data on ballistic missile launches to support US-based anti-missile systems. South Korea is ideally located to cover much of eastern China with the AN/TPY-2 radar, posing a threat to China's security.

Concerns over health risks associated with the THAAD radar's emissions have been raised repeatedly by local residents. The Daegu Regional Environmental Office attempted to assess the environmental impact through periodic measurements, but the results were not meaningful without knowing the radar's power output level and angles. The Ministry of Defense conducted an environmental impact assessment and announced that the impact was insignificant, but it failed to provide any meaningful details beyond a single measurement result, citing national security concerns.

The real purpose of the THAAD system in South Korea is to track ballistic missile launches from China, enlisting South Korea in US war plans against its neighbor. The extent of radiation risk depends heavily on the radar's power output and disposition, but the US Army's AN/TPY-2 forward-based operations field manual provides some insight. The manual specifies three search plans for the radar while in forward-based mode, with the standard operations mode normally providing multiple search sectors. The radar will be aimed at a wide range of the local population, potentially exposing them to radiation.

Residents in Seongju have reason to be concerned about potential health risks associated with living adjacent to the THAAD installation, as the radar emits pulses of high-frequency electromagnetic fields. These waves can penetrate exposed tissues and produce heating due to energy absorption. Long-term exposure to such radiation could pose health risks, including neurological effects.

The THAAD system in South Korea poses a two-fold threat, acting as a first-strike weapon against ballistic missiles and potentially exposing the local population to radiation risks. The US Army's secretive operations regarding the THAAD system's deployment in South Korea and its refusal to disclose crucial details about the environmental impact assessment raise serious concerns. The Ministry of Defense's lack of transparency and its refusal to release details that could harm the state's vital interests only add to the worries.

Protestors in Seongju have vowed to fight to the end, and it remains to be seen whether the South Korean government will prioritize their concerns over US military interests.

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