(LEAD) Defense chief: alternate site for THAAD possible on local consensus

South Korea will consider another site for the planned deployment of an advanced missile defense shield if the residents of Seongju can agree on an alternative option, the defense ministry said Wednesday.

In a closed-door meeting with representatives from Seongju, which has been tapped to host the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, defense chief Han Min-koo said the government is open to suggestions for an alternative site.

"The defense minister said the government will give consideration to an alternative site (for THAAD) if local residents reach an understanding on a new location," the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.

Although the minister mentioned the possibility of an alternate site for THAAD, he made it clear that it may be possible only if local residents reach a full consensus.

He still cited Seongju's Seongsan-ri as the "most optimal" site due to its good location to defend against nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, but he apologized for the selection process that did not provide an explanation in advance to residents about the deployment.

"The decision to install a THAAD battery here is purely a self-defense measure taken to protect South Koreans," Han said.

Responding to his remarks, Lee Jae-bok, who represents the 50,000 Seongju residents, asked the minister to give a full explanation regarding the site selection process and to answer questions about the system's necessity, effectiveness and safety measures.

The minister said there will be a thorough survey and analysis before the system is installed next year.

On July 8, the South and the United States announced the decision to deploy the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea.

To allay anger and fear of Seongju residents following the decision, Han and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn visited Seongju early in July but failed to engage in dialogue with locals and found themselves trapped on a bus for over six hours as protesters kept them from leaving the area.

Opponents have argued the THAAD system's powerful "X-band" radar could pose serious health problems to nearby residents. They didn't accept the test results that showed the system's radar waves didn't have any serious health impact.

They have also taken issue with the government's "unilateral" decision to install the THAAD battery in Seongju.

Early this month, President Park Geun-hye said that her government could consider deploying a THAAD battery in a new location within Seongju County, rather than the already designated spot.

Before Park's remarks, the defense ministry said its top priority was to persuade Seongju residents to accept the planned deployment of the THAAD system. The military said that it wants to deploy THAAD at a site that already houses a South Korean Air Force's anti-aircraft missile battery with associated radars.

The South Korean facility will be moved to another location.

Source: Yonhap News Agency