Have you heard we’re spending a lot of money on subs, but not the footlong kind?
Firstly, why is the name AUKUS so AUkward?
AUKUS is the name for a trilateral alliance between Australia (A), the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US). As part of the security pact, significant dollars will be spent on state-of-the-art defence technology.
That means Australia is in a partnership with the Brits and the Yanks to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where the security challenges have grown significantly.
There are two pillars to the AUKUS pact; the first is the submarine deal, with the UK and the US agreeing to work with Australia so we can build our own nuclear submarines, and the second is about sharing research and technology.
Okay, but I’m struggling to pay rent, and we’re buying nuclear tubes?
The submarine deal is set to cost the Federal Government between $268-368 billion dollars over three decades and will provide us with a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
The new fleet of SSN-AUKUS submarines will be built at the Osborne Naval shipyard, with the first submarine planned to be delivered to the Royal Australian Navy in the early 2040s.
But first we are first set to receive three of America’s existing Virginia-class submarines in the 2030s (with the option to buy two more).
While the amount to be spent seems large, it only raises our defence spending from 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 2.15 per cent each year. In other words, it will only cost 0.15 per cent of the wealth Australia generates in a year for the next 30 years to deliver this project.
This increase in Defence spending is unlikely to impact our everyday purchases because it is so minimal. So worry not; there’s enough money for the rest of us.
We’re gaining nuclear capability with these submarines, and that is concerning to some people. However, it’s important to note that this project does not involve nuclear weapons and is consistent with Australia’s longstanding commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.
Australia is a strong supporter of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and has never-before deployed nuclear-powered submarines, but nuclear technology is not new to Australia.
Nuclear technology is currently being used across multiple industries such as medicine, with leading facilities at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute where personnel have been managing the risks of nuclear technology for many years – whilst the technology being used in the submarine program is different, the monitoring of the radiation is the same.
But nuclear reactors sound unsafe…
There are plenty of discussions to be had about what will happen with the nuclear waste from the submarines, which will be high-level waste fuel rods and reactors.
But the need to dispose of the nuclear waste is still years away, with no decision yet made on where in Australia it will be carefully stored and managed.
Rest assured though that when the time does come to store the nuclear waste, doing so is a safe and well-known practice.
Australia has been operating nuclear facilities and conducting nuclear science activities for the past 70 years.
AUKUS enables Australia to leverage nuclear powered submarine expertise from the United States and the United Kingdom, building on decades of experience in their respective submarine programs.
The Federal Government will also establish a new independent statutory regulator, the Australian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Safety Regulator.
The new Regulator will have the functions and powers necessary to regulate the unique circumstances associated with nuclear safety and radiological protection across the lifecycle of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine enterprise. This includes associated infrastructure and facilities.
The Australian Government will have the time to consult First Nations Australians to ensure it is dealing with the waste respectfully and safely.
The main thing, for now, is not to worry. Properly handled, nuclear storage will pose no risk to humans or the environment, and we have 30 years before we have spent reactors to dispose of.
All that money, and for what exactly?
Hundreds of South Australian jobs disappeared after Australia’s deal with the French to build the submarines was cancelled in 2021. These new AUKUS submarines are set to be built in Osborne, where our Collins Class submarines were built, and will create a much larger workforce for South Australians than under the French deal.
To ensure South Australia has a workforce ready and skilled for the job, the South Australian Government has committed $450,000 to software engineering apprenticeships at UniSA and $209 million for five new technical colleges throughout Adelaide and regional South Australia.
Flinders University is set to partner with the University of Manchester to bring nuclear expertise to South Australia. The University of Adelaide will provide a lead in Quantum Computing and Machine Learning, which will be working toward the second pillar of the AUKUS pact.
These vocational schools will ensure that we are preparing people living in South Australia to contribute to this undertaking, enabling South Australia to benefit from its duties to our national interests.
That sounds good, but how many jobs are we talking about?
In Adelaide, there will be about 4000 jobs created to build the shipyard, a further 4000-5500 positions created in manufacturing the submarines when the program is at its peak, plus many more jobs across adjacent industries.
Ultimately, South Australia will be the home of this historic deal that will not only provide jobs for generations of South Australians but also open new pathways for young people entering the workforce. SA has been given a chance to prove to the rest of the country and to the world that we are exemplary in advanced manufacturing, skill and technology. This is good news for us in South Australia and for our partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
Want to hear more about the SA submarine deal?
Listen to the Hot Topics team talk all things subs in episode 6. Listen via Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast or via The Post.