Australia warned bid for nuclear subs carries ‘enormous’ risks

Tuesday, Dec 14, 2021

Sydney: Australia’s bid to develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines will cost more than US$80 billion and take decades in the "most complex" project the country has ever embarked on, a study released Monday warned.

The report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute -- an influential Canberra-based think tank -- said ownership of the high-tech subs built with US or British know-how would offer a major advantage in deterring aggression from China or elsewhere.

But it will also be a fiendishly difficult task requiring a step-change in Australia’s military and industrial capabilities. It is "probably the largest and most complex endeavour Australia has embarked upon. The challenges, costs and risks will be enormous," the think tank warned. "It’s likely to be at least two decades and tens of billions of dollars in sunk costs before Australia has a useful nuclear-powered military capability."

The project, announced last month, will make Australia the only non-nuclear weapons power to own nuclear-run submarines, which are capable of travelling quickly over long distances carrying long-range missiles and state-of-the-art underwater drones.

Canberra plans to equip them with conventional rather than nuclear weapons. It has yet to decide whether it will buy US or British technology, what class, size and capabilities the subs will have, where they will be built or how radioactive material will be handled.

Even under an optimistic schedule, the first submarines are unlikely to be operational before 2040, according to the report’s authors, who include former Australian defence department officials and an expert on nuclear physics.