Nuclear submarines acquired under the AUKUS deal could help develop a nuclear energy industry in Australia, the Minerals Council of Australia told a Senate inquiry on Monday.
A Senate committee was looking at removing Australia’s ban on nuclear energy by changing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act under a bill moved by Queensland Nationals senator Matt Canavan.
Senator Canavan pointed out it “made no sense at all” for Australia to allow for a nuclear submarine industry while continuing a ban on nuclear energy.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable told the Senate committee there was no difference between a nuclear power plant and a nuclear-powered submarine.
“A submarine can be classified as a small modular reactor,” Ms Constable said.
“Therefore, if you’re going to apply the prohibition being lifted for nuclear submarines it should equally apply for nuclear energy. We think that an industry starting now could be used eventually for nuclear energy.”
Australia is seeking an exemption from the International Atomic Energy Agency to become the first non-nuclear weapon state to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the trilateral AUKUS agreement with the United States and the UK.
The Albanese government has signed an agreement to purchase eight nuclear-propelled subs in a $368 billion deal with the assurance the subs will not carry any nuclear weapons.
Australia’s moratorium on nuclear energy remains in place, but these laws need to be amended to allow for work to be done on the submarines.
The subs will be built in Adelaide and Western Australia and the waste will be managed on defence department land, with a site yet to be located.
Ms Constable said the minerals council had been in discussions with the federal government about training and building up a workforce to fill the “many thousands” of jobs that could be provided in nuclear energy.
She said these workers were some of the “most highly skilled around the world”, citing the fact one-quarter of staff the Open Pool Australian Lightwater reactor at Lucas Heights held PhDs.
“f you look around the world, submariners after they leave the nuclear submarine industry, do make their way into to working at nuclear power plants,” Ms Constable said.
“The prohibition being lifted for nuclear for the nuclear submarines is a good start. It’s better to plan right in advance for those for those skill sets because they are specialised, because they are very highly skilled.”
The federal budget is setting aside $128.5 million to create 4000 university places to build a STEM workforce with defence and nuclear technology capabilities to develop the skills needed for the AUKUS agreement.
The submarine program is expected to create 20,000 high-skilled jobs in the next 30 years.
However, Electrical Trades Union national policy officer Trevor Gauld said the union had many concerns around the AUKUS deal, with many questions “the Australian public are not privy to”.
Mr Gould said AUKUS represented a “a stalking horse for Australia to become the dumping ground for the world’s high level and intermediate waste”.
Source: Canberra Times