A British admiral has moved to quell concerns about the sharing of nuclear technology with Australia, as Canberra looks to procure a new fleet of submarines fuelled by atomic energy.
Admiral Tony Radakin said the AUKUS alliance between the US, UK and Australia should be seen as one of “reassurance” in the Indo-Pacific, when asked about concerns over how the procurement fits into the region’s non-proliferation obligations.
“It’s very, very responsible countries coming together. Three countries that respect the world order, that seek to enhance stability, security and prosperity,” the professional head of Britain’s armed forces told the ABC.
“We see with AUKUS an additional capability and additional contribution to what we want to achieve in the region.
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“This should be one of reassurance – three responsible nations investing together to take the benefit of high-end capabilities to support the shared goals of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Indonesia this week raised concerns about the exploitation and safety risks of highly enriched uranium for nuclear naval propulsion in a working paper submitted to the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which begins next week.
“The uranium enriched to fuel naval propulsion reactors is above levels used in civilian power reactors, near-weapons-grade levels, and even weapons-grade, which poses a growing risk to achieving the non-proliferation goals of the treaty,” the working paper says.
“The use and sharing of nuclear technologies and materials for military purposes could run counter to the spirit and objectives of the treaty, as it could potentially set precedence for other similar arrangements and complicate safeguards mechanisms.”
Jakarta added it saw any transfer of nuclear materials and technology to a non-nuclear state for military purposes as “increasing the associated risks and the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences”.
The two-page working paper does not make any reference to the AUKUS alliance through which Australia is looking to procure nuclear-powered submarines.
Indonesia’s director for international security and disarmament Achsanul Habib also told Nine newspapers the working paper was “in no way intended to respond to AUKUS”, but rather to address a lack of regulation in the area.
The paper states: “The issue of the nuclear naval propulsion programme presents a unique case that deserves serious attention”.
“Indonesia notes with concern the potential consequences of sharing nuclear-powered submarine capability with the global non-proliferation regime,” it says.
Australia will send a delegation, led by Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres, to the review conference to underline its commitment to non-proliferation as part of its acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines.
Sixteen Australian government officials will be involved in the conference over four weeks, including the arms control and counter-proliferation ambassador and disarmament ambassador.