New alliance announces nuclear subs for Australia

Article by Amanda Jasi

Environment groups call for transparency

THE Australian, UK, and US governments have announced a collaboration on nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. It is the first initiative of a newly launched defence and security partnership – AUKUS.

The alliance is expected to deepen defence and security collaboration, including integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. It is expected to protect and defend shared interests in the Indo-Pacific.

Collaboration for the nuclear submarines will deliver at least eight nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. These will be built in Adelaide, Australia with close collaboration from the UK and the US.

Though Australia has almost one third of the world’s uranium reserves, it lacks nuclear infrastructure. It has a single research reactor and laws prohibiting nuclear power. The country will rely on UK and US expertise to bring the announced nuclear submarines into service “at the earliest achievable date”.

News reports say that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expects the first submarines by 2040.

Over the next 18 months, the alliance will look to identify an optimal pathway to deliver this capability.

With their announcement, the nations stated their commitment to upholding their leadership on global non-proliferation of nuclear material and technology. Morrison also stated that Australia is not looking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish civil nuclear capability. The nation is committed to fulfilling its obligations as a non-nuclear weapons state, including with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Despite Australia’s assurances, national environmental organisations have expressed their concern.

To ensure that the deal does not put the nation on a path towards nuclear power, weapons, and waste, the Australian Conservation Foundation called on Morrison to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; to uphold the Government’s commitment to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, which prohibit nuclear power in Australia; and to support transparency and democracy by releasing the details of the deal before committing to it.

As Australia looks to decarbonise, these technologies should be allowed

Friends of the Earth highlighted that the escalation of AUKUS colonial forces in the Asia Pacific will undermine Australia’s relationship with its close neighbours, “such as New Zealand and other Pacific nations who have bans on nuclear powered vessels entering their ports”.

The deal has already upset China, which denounced the alliance. AUKUS is seen as a response to China’s growing power and influence, and aggression in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan.

Zhao Lijian, Spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, said the cooperation on nuclear submarines “severely undermines regional peace [and] stability, intensifies arms race, and undercuts [international] non-proliferation efforts.

“It’s highly irresponsible and shows double standards on using nuclear export for geopolitical games.”

According to reports, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that AUKUS is “not intended to be adversarial towards any other power”.
France is disappointed, as the AUKUS submarine initiative replaces a A$90bn (US$65.3bn) submarine agreement with Australia. Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs said this constituted “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners”.

However, Australian national organisations have welcomed the news, including the Australian Nuclear Association (ANA) which said it is “a decision based on the merits of nuclear power for submarine propulsion”.

ANA President Joanne Lackenby said the announcement “will facilitate an expansion of this nuclear expertise and enhance Australia’s STEM sector”.
Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, said: “This is an incredible opportunity for Australia’s economy – not only will we develop the skills and infrastructure to support this naval technology, but it connects us to the growing global nuclear power industry and its supply chains.”

Discussing the benefits of the next generation of nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors, she said: “As Australia looks to decarbonise, these technologies should be allowed.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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