Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

AUKUS nuclear submarines deal must be abandoned

AUKUS nuclear submarines deal must be abandoned, Pearls and Irritations, By Brian TooheyOct 13, 2021

Australia doesn’t need nuclear powered submarines, especially given the Australia’s long-standing support for the world’s nuclear non-proliferation goals.

The White House failed to think beyond its Anglo-Saxon allies in London and Canberra when agreeing to sell Australia eight nuclear submarines.

The US’s north Asian allies Korea and Japan are much closer to China and more at risk, however slight. The Japan Times responded with a cool headed article spelling out the folly of the decision. It said the US, “has put at risk long-standing but fragile global pacts to prevent the proliferation of dangerous nuclear technologies”.

It also reported that US Navy ships “use about 100 nuclear bombs worth of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) each year”.

Although the US or the UK is supposed to build Australia eight nuclear-powered attack submarines under as new agreement called AUKUS, there is no realistic way this can occur without trashing Australia’s long-standing support for the world’s nuclear non-proliferation goals.

One of the key problems is the US Navy insists it is essential to use uranium enriched to 93 per cent to obtain the main fissile isotope of U-235, the same level as in nuclear weapons. It also insists it couldn’t switch to low levels of enrichment without greatly increasing the costs and size of the submarines as well as the construction time.

This means the US Navy will reject Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion to get the French to supply non-weapons grade fuel. The British can’t help as they get their HEU fuel from the US. The enrichment to 93 per cent compares to around 40 per cent for Russian and Indian submarines. The French only enrich to 7.5 per cent, China to about 5 per cent and civilian power reactors to around 3.5 per cent. Anything less that 20 per cent is defined as low level enrichment.

The White House’s attitude has changed since the 1980s when the US blocked Canada’s attempts to buy nuclear submarines from the UK or France.

Nevertheless, some members of the US Congress and senior officials want the navy to shift to low enrichment to eliminate proliferation problems.

A nuclear problem

In a letter to The New York Times, former US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security Rose Gottemoeller said the proposal to share HEU-fuelled submarines with Australia “has blown apart 60 years of US policy” designed to minimise the use of HEU uranium.

“Such uranium makes nuclear bombs, and we never wanted it in the hands of non-nuclear-weapon states, no matter how squeaky clean,” she said.

Of the seven nuclear weapons states, five have nuclear submarines. Australia will be the first non-nuclear weapons state to get nuclear submarines. The understandable concern is that other allies will want similar treatment, expanding the risk that weapons grade uranium will be stolen or diverted.

In some interpretations, a loophole exempts naval nuclear reactors from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s anti-proliferation requirements.

But there are numerous other agreements that Australia might have to comply with if it stores HEU in its submarines.

The AUKUS defence deal is almost wholly symbolic

In addition, the AUKUS agreement includes Australian access to other technologies, including Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles for the navy’s Hobart-class destroyers. Because the Tomahawk can be armed with nuclear or conventional explosives, this could make it difficult to comply with the Missile Technology and Control Regime which Australia has strongly backed.

Another hurdle stems from the Howard government’s passage of a parliamentary act in 1999 outlawing just about all nuclear activities, apart from mining and exporting uranium. If circumstances prevent the US from maintaining all the nuclear aspects of Australia’s future submarines, this might spark calls for the rapid construction of nuclear facilities here. But the necessary amendments to the 1999 act could be blocked in the Senate.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison can’t credibly commit Australia to never engaging in nuclear proliferation. In the 1960s, Liberal prime minister John Gorton took preliminary steps to develop Australia’s own nuclear weapons, explaining to the US secretary of state Dean Rusk that he did not trust the US to defend Australia if it had to use nuclear weapons. A prime minister sharing Gorton’s assessment could emerge at any time.

Perhaps the White House will overrule the navy after a protracted battle to ensure the new submarines use low enrichment uranium posing no proliferation problem.

Nuclear submarines are not essential

However, the deal would still make no sense for Australia.

Government sources are widely quoted as saying the cost of the new submarines will be well over $100 billion, yet the first one won’t be operational until after 2040 and the last until after 2060. By then, the submarines would be obsolete death traps, susceptible to detection and destruction by several existing and new technologies.

The time scale reinforces the entire air of unreality about acquiring these submarines, only a couple of which may be operationally available at any one time.

Some commentators suggest Australia must buy the submarines to help the US counter a Chinese threat to Taiwan.

But no one knows what will happen to China or the US in a radically uncertain future. By 2060, China may be the dominant country in Asia, it may have returned to its earlier policy of living in Confucian harmony with its neighbours………………..

October 14, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international, weapons and war

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