IAEA ‘satisfied’ with AUKUS engagement on submarine plan, report says

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The UN nuclear watchdog is satisfied with the engagement shown so far by the United States, Britain and Australia on their AUKUS alliance’s plan to supply Australia with nuclear submarines, a report by the watchdog seen by Reuters showed.

So far no party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, such as Australia, has a nuclear-powered submarine, other than the five permanent (P5) members of the UN Security Council, also known as nuclear-weapon states: the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain.

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Nuclear submarines, which can remain at sea far longer than other submarines, pose a proliferation challenge because they operate beyond the reach of IAEA inspectors. Special arrangements must therefore be made with the IAEA for their often very highly enriched fuel to leave dry land.

“The Agency, on the basis of technical consultations and exchanges it has conducted with the AUKUS parties to date, is satisfied with the level of their engagement,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in the confidential report to member states on Friday.

“Such technical consultations will continue for the foreseeable future. The Agency recognizes that AUKUS is at an early stage and that precisely how it will develop has yet to be decided by the parties involved.”

Australia has said that while this is the start of a long process its submarines’ nuclear reactors would essentially be a sealed box handed over to it, limiting the proliferation risk.

The report quoted Australia as stating to the IAEA: “Australia would be provided with complete, welded power units.

These power units are designed so that removal of any nuclear material would be extremely difficult and would render the power unit, and the submarine, inoperable.”

That material would also be in a form that cannot be used in nuclear weapons without chemical processing “requiring facilities that Australia does not have and will not seek,” it added.

Australia’s center-left Labor Party, which won a general election in May, has sought closer ties with France, hoping to repair a rift after the previous government scrapped a multi-billion-dollar contract with a French company to build diesel-powered submarines in favor of the AUKUS pact.

Read more: Explainer: What’s the four-nation Quad, where did it come from?

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