ICAN submission: Inquiry into Australian Naval Nuclear Power Safety Bill 2023

Mar 14, 2024 | News

It’s been a year since the Australian government unveiled its tripartite deal with the US and the UK to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, forecast to cost up to AU$368 billion by the mid 2050s. ICAN Australian believes this plan jeopardises global health and security, goes against our commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, and could be seen as a precursor to Australia acquiring nuclear weapons.

In February, 2024, Associate Prof Tilman Ruff AO, board member and founding chair of ICAN Australia, made a submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee regarding the Inquiry into Australian Naval Nuclear Power Safety Bill 2023 [Provisions] and Australian Naval Nuclear Power Safety (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2023 [Provisions].

In it, Ruff re-stated ICAN’s position, stating:

ICAN Australia is deeply concerned about the government’s plan for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. Given our mandate and focus, our principal concerns relate to the following, among many adverse consequences of the plan:

  • It exacerbates regional tensions, fuels an arms race and risks of war in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly involving China and the United States, and increases the danger of nuclear escalation of any such conflict;
  • It further locks in Australia to unavoidably becoming embroiled and a target in any Asia-Pacific war involving the United States;
  • It involves proliferation and erosion of control of fissile materials from which nuclear weapons can be built;
  • It damages nuclear non-proliferation, particularly the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which successive Australian governments claim to strongly support and regard as the cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, and it also damages the associated nuclear safeguards regime administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Therefore our specific recommendations regarding the naval nuclear power bills in question should not be taken to indicate ICAN Australia supports or accepts as inevitable delivery of all the various stages of the long-term, complex, exorbitantly costly, multistage AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine acquisition plan.

ICAN Australia opposes Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines and recommends that:

  • ARPANSA should regulate all nuclear activities.
  • Australia’s nuclear non-proliferation obligations and effective and consistent application of nuclear safeguards must not be compromised by the planned nuclear submarine acquisition.
  • Management of HEU fuel, including spent fuel, requires high levels of both safety and security.
  • Planned nuclear-powered submarine acquisition makes it even more important that Australia join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).