AUKUS and nuclear-powered subs for Australia

2021-10-05

in Bombs and rockets, Politics

In September, the US, Australia, and the UK announced the trilateral AUKUS security pact, a key element of which is for the US and UK to provide nuclear propulsion technology for Australian submarines. From an arms race and proliferation perspective, the development is somewhat worrying.

To limit their size and maximize the time period between refuelling, nuclear submarines use highly enriched uranium (HEU) which could be redirected for use in a bomb. It will be important to see whether the US and UK provide the reactors as sealed packages or whether Australia will develop uranium enrichment technology. Either way, providing the submarines would position Australia to be close to being able to build a crude uranium bomb. Especially if HEU is transferred to Australia without strong IAEA safeguards, this sort of technology transfer could end up as a mechanism for placing more countries a few screwdriver turns away from a basic nuclear weapon.

The creation of the pact also seems like a classic example of ‘the security dilemma’: China feels threatened from being surrounded by potentially hostile US allies so they feel justified in a major military build-up; that build-up in turn alarms those neighbours and justifies their own further armament, which closes the cycle and makes China feel threatened and justified in building more arms.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

. October 5, 2021 at 4:51 pm

Biden Takes Rare Step To Share Nuclear Submarine Technology With Australia : NPR

https://www.npr.org/2021/09/15/1037338887/why-biden-is-taking-the-rare-step-of-sharing-nuclear-submarine-tech-with-austral

. October 5, 2021 at 4:52 pm

The new Australia, UK, and US nuclear submarine announcement: a terrible decision for the nonproliferation regime – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

https://thebulletin.org/2021/09/the-new-australia-uk-and-us-nuclear-submarine-announcement-a-terrible-decision-for-the-nonproliferation-regime/

. October 5, 2021 at 4:52 pm

France recalls ambassadors to US and Australia after Aukus pact | France | The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/17/france-recalls-ambassadors-to-us-and-australia-after-aukus-pact

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