The UN nuclear watchdog is confident in Australia’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, but says the technical details remain to be seen.
The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, is in Australia to discuss Australia’s purchase of nuclear-powered submarines under the Aukus deal, meeting with foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, in Adelaide on Monday.
Grossi has set up a taskforce to investigate the safeguards and legal implications of the deal, under which Australia will buy the boats from either the United States or the United Kingdom. The agency must ensure Australia will not breach the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and there are global concerns that other states will seek to follow Australia’s move to have nuclear submarines.
A reactor on a military submarine is impossible for the IAEA to monitor as it does other reactors, and ill-intentioned states could conceivably try to use that lack of transparency to gain reactors and channel the technology into nuclear weapons.
Grossi said Australia’s “special arrangement” was necessary because with naval nuclear submarines out at sea for many months, he “can’t send another vehicle to chase it and inspect it”.
“Not surprisingly, the consideration around Aukus and the project to give Australia nuclear naval propulsion has been at the centre of the conversation,” he said.
“I got a very clear commitment about Australia’s unwavering commitment to, and support of, non-proliferation and the need for us to work together.
“This is a technologically challenging project that will require very specific arrangements between us and Australia.’”
Grossi said they were at the very initial steps of the project as the exact submarine had not even been chosen yet, and that the agency would ensure there were “no loopholes or proliferation escapes that would allow for this material or part of it to be deviated or lost”.
He said he was “absolutely confident about the commitment of the country” to nuclear non-proliferation, but that the technical details had to be worked out for the whole process to be approved.
“Then, we will have to see. The political commitment of the government is indispensable. We have that,” he said.
“Now we have to go down to the technical [and legal] work, and it will only be once we see eye to eye on every technical aspect.”
It was Grossi’s first official visit as director general to Australia. A meeting with the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is also scheduled.
Wong and Grossi also discussed nuclear proliferation “challenges” in Iran and North Korea. North Korea has been carrying out nuclear weapons tests while Iran is accused of testing missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads.
“The work of the IAEA to contribute to global peace and security has never been more important, or more urgent,” Wong said.
“We discussed the IAEA’s central role in addressing nuclear proliferation challenges in Iran and North Korea. And I underlined Australia’s strong support for the IAEA’s work to assist Ukraine and deal with the serious nuclear safety implications of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion.
“I reiterated Australia’s total commitment to our obligations under the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the South Pacific nuclear-free zone treaty.”
Wong said she also “reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to working transparently and openly with the IAEA to ensure our acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines sets the highest possible non-proliferation standards”.
Source: The Guardian