(38c) From Subs to Mines: What Would It Take for Australia to Develop a Nuclear-Powered Submarine Capability? | AIChE

(38c) From Subs to Mines: What Would It Take for Australia to Develop a Nuclear-Powered Submarine Capability?


Simons, S. J. R. - Presenter, University College London
Stone, T., University College London

Australia is about to embark on a major construction activity to replace its ageing fleet of Collins-class diesel electric submarines. There is current debate as to whether all or some of the fleet should be nuclear powered. Despite having a quarter of the World’s natural resources in uranium, Australia only has a limited indigenous nuclear engineering capability and no nuclear reactors, other than the OPAL research reactor operated by ANSTO at  Lucas Heights in Sydney. So, what would it take to develop the capability to procure, operate and maintain nuclear-powered submarines?

This paper considers the strategic, economic, legal, regulatory and workforce issues in relation to procuring, leasing or assembling a complete military off the shelf (MOTS) nuclear-powered submarine in Australia. This scenario would likely require Australia to develop a nuclear-powered submarine operations, maintenance, refuelling, waste management and possibly decommissioning capability, without presenting Australia with the considerable upfront challenges of developing a nuclear reactor and fuel enrichment supply chain.  However, there may be some legal and political challenges to overcome, particularly in the international community.

While, the implications for Australia’s uranium reserves are likely to be minimal, significant opportunities are likely to arise in the development of the legal, regulatory and education agencies involved in providing this nuclear capability as well as an important opportunity to develop high-quality skills in Australian nationals. 

Successful procurement, leasing or development of nuclear-powered submarine capabilities in Australia will potentially reduce the barriers to expansion into other aspects of the high-value nuclear energy supply chain, and provide opportunities for increased nuclear power plant deployment capabilities in the future, for instance, with Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).  This would be prudent national planning given the increasing investment in Australia in remote mining and processing operations - and Australia’s international commitment to reduction of atmospheric CO2 levels.