Nuclear energy submission

November 20, 2019
Astute-class nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Audacious – photo licenced from Alamy

A Parliamentary committee is currently examining whether there is a future role for nuclear energy in Australia. Submarines for Australia made a submission to the Inquiry (attached) that was accepted by the Committee at the end of September.

The Australian government has operated a nuclear reactor for research purposes for many years. The reactor, which now produces vital isotopes for use in nuclear medicine, is situated in Lucas Heights, in leafy Sutherland Shire in south Sydney, and appears to have the support of the local community. Yet around 20 years ago, the Howard government legislated a national prohibition on the use of nuclear energy for power generation in Australia. The Submarines for Australia submission argues that this legislative ban should be removed. Nuclear energy, which could make a major contribution to reducing carbon emissions, should be considered, like other power-generation technologies, on its merits, including the economics of nuclear generation, its environmental impact and its safety.

The main thrust of the submission, however, is that, in the future, conventional submarines, such as the proposed $50 billion acquisition of the French-designed Attack class, will no longer be effective in the congested and intensive operational environment to which they are generally deployed. The lengthy transits to and from their far distant area of operations occupy half of a RAN submarine’s 70-day patrol, while the necessity to ‘snort’ periodically and run their diesel generators exposes them to detection in an operating environment where counterforce anti-submarine warfare capability is increasing at a rapid rate. Their speed is also inadequate in an era where they will be confronted with a growing number of nuclear submarines. With long transits, this lack of speed reduces the number of submarines that can be on station at any time. It also compromises their operational effectiveness while on patrol and makes it less likely that they could break contact and escape if detected.

In the interests both of operational effectiveness and better survivability, therefore, the Submission argues that Australia should consider the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines. The Submission also examines the hurdles that would need to be overcome if SSNs were to be deployed by the Navy.

Download submission (PDF 306KB)