Topics: AUKUS agreement; benefits of nuclear-powered submarines


09:50AM AEST

Leon Byner: Well, the Greens have been accused of irresponsible, scaremongering. Their South Australian senator has gone to a rally and is basically saying that the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal will lead to more Hiroshima’s. Now, one of the people who has responded most vigorously to that comment. Is the federal Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Leon.

Leon Byner: Tell me why you take issue with that statement from the Greens?

Simon Birmingham: It’s very important on this critical defence agreement that we are responsible in terms of the way in which we explain to South Australians, that we continue to reassure people across Australia and around the world, first and foremost, that the agreement to access nuclear powered submarines is just that nuclear powered, not nuclear arms. There will not be any nuclear weapons on these submarines, that has been crystal clear from day one. So likening it to Hiroshima is a reckless, irresponsible thing to do when there is zero suggestion of there being any nuclear weapons involved. It’s been important as well in the context of South Australia to reassure as well that there is not a proposal for a nuclear reactor to be established down at Osborne shipyard where these submarines will be built, that it’s being clear again that the technology that is involved in relation to nuclear powered submarines means that we will be able to build the submarines in South Australia, but that the nuclear reactor element will come in from overseas to be installed to be installed in the submarines and that because of the improved technology around them, there is no need during the life of the submarines to be changing fuel rods or doing those sorts of things that. They are now able to run essentially their life on that single reactor structure. So there is a minimal level of nuclear handling that occurs. And let’s remember that in suburban Sydney, Australia is long had the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor that has operated very safely and of course generates nuclear medicine to support communities right around the country. So that’s why I’m worried about this type of scaremongering, that it creates undue concern and that we shouldn’t be seeing that when we should be looking at how we make sure this is a project delivered as quickly and responsibly as possible to get the defence capability we need.

Leon Byner: Can you explain to the public of South Australia why the nuclear option is being considered in the context we’re discussing today?

Simon Birmingham: Nuclear-powered submarines were chosen as the preferred option in the decision made by the Morrison government because they have the capability to go so much further in distance underwater and maintain stealth. That the diesel powered submarines have to come up for air in a process known as snorting. And that means that when they come up for air, they risk being identified by other nations. What submarines provide in excess of nearly any other defence capability is that stealth and that ability to move in waters and geographical areas and gather intelligence and information and undertake observation that essentially no other piece of military hardware can do. So the nuclear-powered submarines don’t have to come up for air and snort in the same way. And now that we’ve got the technological improvements that I spoke about before, not having to change fuel rods, being able to manage that potentially for the life of a submarine and with the willingness of the US and the UK to share that technology with Australia. That’s why the Morrison government made the decision that it was in our best interest of the nation to have the best possible defence capability for the decades that lie ahead.

Leon Byner: How many nuclear subs are we buying first off?

Simon Birmingham: The commitment was at least eight. Now, the new Government has indicated they are honouring those terms around the AUKUS agreement, including the timeline that we will see decisions made by early next year around the number and also the class of boat. So there are different options between the Virginia class that is a US class of nuclear-powered submarine or the Astute class is a UK option and obviously the new government will make those decisions based on the advice of defence and cooperation and work they’re doing with the US and UK following on from what we established.

Leon Byner: So just to be clear, for those people that are wondering about this debate, the main reason we’re going to buy and acquire nuclear subs is?

Simon Birmingham: It’s for the defence capability, the stealth, the ability to move further, longer, greater distances underwater without being detected, which is precisely what you want submarines to be able to do.

Leon Byner: And how expensive are they compared to what we used to have?

Simon Birmingham: So the nuclear-powered submarines will come at a higher cost in relation to the build. Now the full analysis that is being done by the officials working as part of that AUKUS pact. But they provide you with such support, dramatically enhanced capability. Advice that we have received if we had proceeded with the diesel powered submarines and the attack class, the French Naval Group Company was going to build in Adelaide would have been the most advanced diesel-powered submarine in the world. But the advice we received was that the enhanced technology to detect those submarines before they go through those snorting type processes coming up for air that I spoke about earlier, would have narrowed the range of operation they could have operated in our region right back to essentially around the Australian shoreline and coast rather than being able to undertake regional operations that expand much further out of Australia’s reach. We currently rely in different ways at different times on the Collins class too.

Leon Byner: Senator Birmingham, thank you. That’s the Federal Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs explaining about the acquisition of nuclear subs.