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Aukus: Biden urged to fast-track research into submarines using non-weapons grade uranium

US lawmakers are concerned that if Australia’s new nuclear submarines use enriched fuel it could undermine global non-proliferation system

Guardian Daniel Hurst 4 Feb 23

The Biden administration is being urged to fast-track research into submarines that do not use weapons-grade uranium, as four Democratic politicians warn the Aukus deal with Australia makes the task “even more pressing”.

Australia’s deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, arrived in the United States for crucial talks with the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, on Friday (US time), amid renewed congressional concerns about aspects of the flagship Aukus project.

With March looming as the deadline for key decisions on how Australia acquires at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with help from the US and the UK, all three countries maintain the work remains on track.

But in the latest sign of congressional jitters, four politicians from Joe Biden’s party have sounded the alarm about broader risks to the global nuclear non-proliferation system.

A newly published letter coordinated by Bill Foster, a physicist serving as US representative for an Illinois congressional district, asks the Biden administration to ramp up research into alternatives to using weapons-grade uranium to power submarines.

It adds to concerns already raised by experts that if the Australian submarines are powered by highly enriched uranium (HEU), other countries may seek to follow the precedent – even though they will not be armed with nuclear weapons…………………….

in a letter to the administrator of the NNSA and the navy secretary, the politicians formally requested a detailed report on “the feasibility and performance impact of a Virginia-Class replacement SSN(X) nuclear-powered attack submarine” that is fuelled by a low-enriched uranium (LEU) reactor with a life-of-the-ship core.

They said previous reports indicated it “may be feasible for the navy to use LEU fuel for naval nuclear propulsion, as France and China already do”……………….

“Minimizing the global presence of HEU by reducing its use in military applications would reduce the risks associated with making and transporting HEU and demonstrate significant leadership on nonproliferation,” the letter said…………….

James Acton, a co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has previously argued that Aukus depends on “a glaring and worrying loophole in IAEA safeguards” that could be exploited by others.

This loophole allows non-nuclear weapon countries to remove the fissile material they need for the submarine reactors from the stockpile monitored by the IAEA………………………………………………..

In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, which was signed by Biden in late December, the US Congress requested Austin to order an independent assessment of the “challenges” to implementing Aukus………..


February 5, 2023 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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