Australian news, and some related international items

Australia’s ‘optimal pathway’ on AUKUS

‘Optimal pathway’ is Prime Minister Albanese’s way of describing the obscure, tortuous AUKUS process

By Alison BroinowskiJan 12, 2023

Just in time, the fundamental faults of AUKUS are being exposed in Canberra and Washington.

This development is not only due to the mounting concern among Australian civil society groups. The Australian mainstream media are now discussing the hitherto unmentionable drawbacks of AUKUS. But it’s because two US Senators, Democrat Jack Reed and Republican James Inhofe (since retired) warned President Biden that the US can’t meet its own submarine needs, let alone Australia’s. They also cautioned about American statutes and regulations that would have to be changed.

Their concern came just in time, for the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the US and the UK is promised for March. As any Australian who’s been asking the Morrison and Albanese governments for the details for the past year knows well, there are none. For the nuclear-powered submarines, we don’t know the cost of the weaponry, the dates of delivery, or the training, staffing and crewing requirements, and it’s a good guess that the government doesn’t either.

In a rare burst of candour, Peter Jennings, whose constant theme at ASPI was and remains to urge more Australian spending on American weapons directed at ‘deterring’ China, is now concerned that if Australia/China relations improve, that could compromise secret US nuclear technology to be shared with Australia. But he still wants the agreement.

What is AUKUS if not a means to deter China?’ he asks, adding that if AUKUS fails, so could ANZUS (Australian, 10 January 2023: 9). Jennings’ concerns may open the AUKUS can of worms, which as he implies, also contains a festering mass of unresolved problems for the ANZUS alliance.

ANZUS was negotiated in 1951 as the bare minimum commitment Australia, New Zealand and the US were prepared to make to defend each other. With no effectively binding clauses – apart from Article 1 where they undertake to refrain from the threat or use of force, consonant with international law and the UN Charter – its unwritten purpose was to contain Japan. Talked up for decades, it acquired mythical significance for Australia’s mateship with the US. But would the US defend Australia if that wasn’t in America’s interests?

That nagging doubt was raised with Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister, by Kim Beazley who knew that whatever else the US would not defend, it would fight for a base. The ‘joint facilities’ at Pine Gap, Narrungar, and Northwest Cape weren’t enough: in 2011 Australia proposed US Marine deployments in the Northern Territory. Under the Coalition, the Force Posture Agreement of 2014 went further, giving ‘unimpeded access’, exclusive control and use of agreed facilities and areas to US personnel, aircraft, ships and vehicles. As Bevan Ramsden pointed out here on 10 January, the sovereignty horse has bolted. US-Australia ‘Force Posture Agreement’ undermines sovereignty, must be terminated

It is too late for Prime Minister Albanese to assure Australians that the nation’s ‘sovereign interest’ will be protected: it hasn’t been for more than a century during which alliances to Britain and the US circumscribed Australian sovereignty. It is meaningless for Malcolm Turnbull, having done nothing to arrest the process of ‘interoperability’ with the US as prime minister, now to lament that AUKUS diminishes Australian sovereignty. The nuclear-powered submarines will have to be bought from, operated by and maintained by the US, and Australia’s defence forces are already ‘interchangeable’ with America’s, as Defence Minister Richard Marles has said. Some face-saving concessions to the UK’s submarine industry will further complicate the agreement.

Australia ‘cannot do everything ourselves’, says Retired Rear Admiral Peter Clarke. What if any of this Australia can do ourselves he didn’t go into. Proof of Clinton Fernandes’ description of Australia as a ‘sub-imperial power’ is becoming stronger by the day, even as its ‘power’ element diminishes.

When political leaders adopt defence jargon, the rest of us should reach for our fact-checkers. ‘Optimal pathway’ is Prime Minister Albanese’s way of describing the obscure, tortuous AUKUS process. ‘When we talk about optimal pathway, we talk about not just the issue of what is built, but how it is built, as well as the optimal pathway in building a capacity of skills in the Australian workforce’, he said. Opposition leader Peter Dutton tried for a clearer answer, saying that Australia was really dependent on buying US submarines to ‘keep the region safe’.  That too remains debatable.

Our leaders don’t say which countries in our region want Australia to ‘keep it safe’. Most of our regional neighbours are safely managing their relations with others now, without our submarines. They will have to wait until 2040 for that to change. In the meantime, Australia might seek their advice about a shared vision for a safe region. How Australia confronting the PRC with armed force is going to deter China – from reclaiming Taiwan, perhaps – is never explained. Peter Jennings hopes Australia can match China’s growing submarine fleet and join the US to stop the ‘Chinese Communist Party dominating the Indo-Pacific’. But how and when will we do so, and at what cost?

What our leaders always leave out is why we should do all this. Before the AUKUS deal is signed and it’s too late, Australians need a clear answer. That needs to be more reliable than citing the ANZUS insurance policy. Australia’s interests in our region are not interchangeable or interoperable with those of the US, nor are they identical, and they should be sovereign.

Dr Alison Broinowski AM is a former diplomat, author and academic. She is President of Australians for War Powers Reform.

January 12, 2023 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international | Leave a comment

Eye-popping new cost estimates released for NuScale small modular reactor

January 11, 2023 David Schlissel

Key Findings

NuScale and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced costs of a 462-megawatt small modular reactor (SMR) have risen dramatically

As recently as mid-2021, the target price for power was pegged at $58 per megawatt-hour (MWh); it’s risen to $89/MWh, a 53% increase.

The price would be much higher without $4 billion federal tax subsidies that include a $1.4 billion U.S. Department of Energy contribution and a $30/MWh break from the Inflation Reduction Act

The higher target price is due to a 75% increase in the estimated construction cost for the project, from $5.3 to $9.3 billion dollars

Last week, NuScale and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced what many have long expected. The construction cost and target price estimates for the 462-megawatt (MW) small modular reactor (SMR) are going up, way up.

From 2016 to 2020, they said the target power price was $55/megawatt-hour (MWh). Then, the price was raised to $58/MWh when the project was downsized from 12 reactor modules to just six (924MW to 462MW). Now, after preparing a new and much more detailed cost estimate,  the target price for the power from the proposed SMR has soared to $89/MWh.

Remarkably, the new $89/MWh price of power would be much higher if it were not for more than $4 billion in subsidies NuScale and UAMPS expect to get from U.S. taxpayers through a $1.4 billion contribution from the Department of Energy and the estimated $30/MWh subsidy in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 

It also is important to remember that the $89/MWh target price is in 2022 dollars and substantially understates what utilities and their ratepayers actually will pay if the SMR is completed. For example, assuming a modest 2% inflation rate through 2030, utilities and ratepayers would pay $102 for each MWh of power from the SMR—not the $89 NuScale and UAMPS want them to believe they will pay.

The 53% increase in the SMR’s target power price since 2021 has been driven by a dramatic 75% jump in the project’s estimated construction cost, which has risen from $5.3 billion to $9.3 billion. The new estimate makes the NuScale SMR about as expensive on a dollars-per-kilowatt basis ($20,139/kW) as the two-reactor Vogtle nuclear project currently being built in Georgia, undercutting the claim that SMRs will be cheap to build.

NuScale and UAMPS attribute the construction cost increase to inflationary pressure on the energy supply chain, particularly increases in the prices of the commodities that will be used in nuclear power plant construction.

For example, UAMPS says increases in the producer price index in the past two years have raised the cost of:

  • Fabricated steel plate by 54%  
  • Carbon steel piping by 106%  
  • Electrical equipment by 25%  
  • Fabricated structural steel by 70%  
  • Copper wire and cable by 32%

In addition, UAMPS notes that the interest rate used for the project’s cost modeling has increased approximately 200 basis points since July 2020. The higher interest rate increases the cost of financing the project, raising its total construction cost.

Assuming the commodity price increases cited by NuScale and UAMPS are accurate, the prices of building all the SMRs that NuScale is marketing—and, indeed, of all of the SMR designs currently being marketed by any company—will be much higher than has been acknowledged, and the prices of the power produced by those SMRs will be much more expensive.

Finally, as we’ve previously said, no one should fool themselves into believing this will be the last cost increase for the NuScale/UAMPS SMR. The project still needs to go through additional design, licensing by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, construction and pre-operational testing. The experience of other reactors has repeatedly shown that further significant cost increases and substantial schedule delays should be anticipated at any stages of project development.

The higher costs announced last week make it even more imperative that UAMPS and the utilities and communities participating in the project issue requests for proposal (RFP) to learn if there are other resources that can provide the same power, energy and reliability as the SMR but at lower cost and lower financial risk. History shows that this won’t be the last cost increase for the SMR project.

David Schlissel ( is IEEFA director of resource planning analysis


January 12, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

US military deepens ties with Japan and Philippines to instigate proxy war with China like it did with Russia

Kathrin Hille, Financial Times, Sun, 08 Jan 23

The US and Japanese armed forces are rapidly integrating their command structure and scaling up combined operations as Washington and its Asian allies prepare for a possible conflict with China such as a war over Taiwan, according to the top Marine Corps general in Japan.

The two militaries have “seen exponential increases . . . just over the last year” in their operations on the territory they would have to defend in case of a war, Lieutenant General James Bierman, commanding general of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) and of Marine Forces Japan, told the Financial Times in an interview.

Bierman said that the US and its allies in Asia were emulating the groundwork that had enabled western countries to support Ukraine’s resistance to Russia in preparing for scenarios such as a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“Why have we achieved the level of success we’ve achieved in Ukraine? A big part of that has been because after Russian aggression in 2014 and 2015, we earnestly got after preparing for future conflict: training for the Ukrainians, pre-positioning of supplies, identification of sites from which we could operate support, sustain operations.

“We call that setting the theatre. And we are setting the theatre in Japan, in the Philippines, in other locations.”

Bierman’s unusually frank comparison between the Ukraine war and a potential conflict with China comes as Beijing has dramatically increased the scale and sophistication of its military manoeuvres near Taiwan in recent years. Japan and the Philippines are also intensifying defence co-operation with the US in the face of mounting Chinese assertiveness.

Japan and the US are set to discuss strengthening their alliance at security talks between the foreign and defence ministers on Wednesday and a summit between US president Joe Biden and Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida on Friday in Washington. The summit comes as Tokyo embarks on a radical security policy shift that will include increasing defence spending and deploying missiles capable of hitting Chinese territory.

III MEF is the Marine Corps’ only crisis response force permanently stationed outside the US. It operates within the range of Chinese medium- and long-range missiles, with which Beijing seeks to constrain US operational freedom in the region.

The unit is at the heart of a sweeping reform of the Marine Corps that aims to replace its focus on fighting counter-insurgency in the Middle East with creating small units that specialise in operating quickly and clandestinely in the islands and straits of east Asia and the western Pacific to counter Beijing’s “anti-access area denial” strategy.

To realise that strategy, closer integration with allies was vital, Bierman said. In a series of recent exercises, the Marines for the first time set up bilateral ground tactical co-ordination centres rather than exchanging liaisons with allies’ command points.

In another sign of deepening co-operation, specific Japanese military units have been designated as part of the “stand-in force” alongside III MEF and US Navy and Air Force units.

Instead of a “round robin” of Japanese military units working with US counterparts, as in the past, a “standing community of interest” is emerging of allied units with responsibility for operational plans, Bierman added.

He said while the US military was paying attention to Chinese aggressive behaviour around Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army should not be perceived as being “10 feet tall”.

“When you talk about the complexity, the size of some of the operations they would have to conduct, let’s say [in] an invasion of Taiwan, there will be indications and warnings, and there are specific aspects to that in terms of geography and time, which allow us to posture and be most prepared.”

As part of those preparations, the Philippines plan to allow US forces to preposition weapons and other supplies on five more bases in addition to five where the US has already access.

“You gain a leverage point, a base of operations, which allows you to have a tremendous head start in different operational plans. As we square off with the Chinese adversary, who is going to own the starting pistol and is going to have the ability potentially to initiate hostilities . . . we can identify decisive key terrain that must be held, secured, defended, leveraged.

January 12, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rolls Royce’s frustration as government holds back on orders for mininuclear reactors.

  Treasury will reportedly not sign off on investment until
technology approved by regulators. A funding deal for the first fleet of
mini nuclear reactors may not materialise for another 12 months, to the
dismay of domestic leaders in the technology. The government made small
modular reactors a central element of its plans to generate 24GW of energy
from nuclear by 2050, but according to The Times there is significant
uncertainty in Whitehall over the scale and state of investment plans.

 Building 10th Jan 2023

January 12, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Australia’s only solar manufacturer launches $11m production and innovation facility — RenewEconomy

Australia’s only solar panel manufacturer launches $11m production and innovation facility in Adelaide, marking new milestone for domestic PV supply chain. The post Australia’s only solar manufacturer launches $11m production and innovation facility appeared first on RenewEconomy.

Australia’s only solar manufacturer launches $11m production and innovation facility — RenewEconomy

January 12, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bowen “upbeat and excited” about Sun Cable, despite billionaire bust-up — RenewEconomy

Federal energy minister hoses down concerns about Sun Cable’s massive solar export plans, describing its move into administration as “a change of corporate structure.” The post Bowen “upbeat and excited” about Sun Cable, despite billionaire bust-up appeared first on RenewEconomy.

Bowen “upbeat and excited” about Sun Cable, despite billionaire bust-up — RenewEconomy

January 12, 2023 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment