US to transfer nuclear submarine technology to Australia under new AUKUS deal

The move uses a loophole in the NPT and prompts fears of nuclear proliferation.
Ameya Paleja
A nuclear submarine at dusk
A nuclear submarine at dusk


The U.S. will lend its advanced nuclear propulsion technology to build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia as it looks to counter the rising influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region. This is the first major agreement under the AUKUS pact, a trilateral arrangement that was set up 18 months ago with the U.K., the U.S., and Australia as signatories.

Back in September 2021, when the AUKUS pact was announced, the U.S. had confirmed that it would help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines. Since the country-continent has resolved to remain a nuclear-free nation, the move had raised the doubts over how this arrangement would be worked out. Diplomats of the three nations have spent the last 18 months ironing out the details of this arrangement, which was publicized in San Diego, yesterday.

Under the arrangement, the U.S. will supply its nuclear propulsion technology to Australia, making it the only country in the world after the U.K. to have gained such access. This will help advance Australia's diesel engine-powered submarine fleet and allow it to carry out long-range strikes.

To ensure Australia's commitment to remain a nuclear-free country, Australian personnel will be trained in the U.S. and the U.K. The fissile material for the submarines will be provided in welded units and not require refueling in their lifetime. Australia will also not reprocess or enrich spent fuel and does not plan to acquire any equipment that could process the fuel and turn it into a usable nuclear weapon.

A loophole in Non-Proliferation Treaty

China has accused AUKUS of violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that was signed by nations in 1968 and called the arrangement that could be used as a precedent to remove nuclear safeguards.

The country is referring is paragraph 14 which allows fissile material for non-explosive military use to be exempt from inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). China has dubbed it a "textbook case of double standard" that will damage the effectiveness of the international non-proliferation system.

The AUKUS deal uses provisions of paragraph 14 after the three nations and IAEA could not find a way where the agency could carry out inspections without losing its authority over the timing of the visit while the nations were unwilling to showcase their military's capabilities to an international team of inspectors.

With the deal setting a precedent, Experts are worried that other nations will also look to remove nuclear fuel from safeguards and it will allow the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

This report contains information that first appeared on the BBC and The Guardian.

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