Australian Nuclear discussions

StingrayOZ

Super Moderator
Staff member
Again extremely unlikely. But as mentioned the final one is so far in the future it is hard to say what exactly be powering them, but it's unlikely to be nuclear.

It was made clear at an industry briefing, that we aren't just building a converted barracuda. It's a whole new sub based around some key capabilities.
 

tonnyc

Well-Known Member
It is unfortunately silent on why the cost is that high. Going by physics, once the fuel is removed, only the reactor vessel is radioactive. The radioactivity is weak and shortlived. It will decay in a couple decades and if the reactor vessel is removed and kept separately the rest of the submarine can be treated as scrap metal.

My guess the UK submarines were not designed for easy removal of the reactor vessel? Or maybe it was but the politics make it impossible to find a storage site so the Royal Navy decided to indefinitely delay it?
 

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
When it comes to nuclear waste, NIMBY is the biggest problem. Despite millions of dollars spent on "best site" location studies by both the US and Canadian governments, minimal progress has been made. Most civilian nuclear waste remains on site at nuclear sites. The US has reprocessing capabilities so some of their stuff gets reused for MOX and probably some bombs. Site availability in the UK would be even more difficult. Don't know about reactor removal wrt UK subs but cutting the sub apart for reactor removal seems ok assuming there is a suitable containment location for performing this. What happens to the reactor after removal is another matter. As for fuel rods, I believe the UK has some reprocessing capabilities and other waste would likely be stored at power plants sites already housing their own waste.
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
It is unfortunately silent on why the cost is that high. Going by physics, once the fuel is removed, only the reactor vessel is radioactive. The radioactivity is weak and shortlived. It will decay in a couple decades and if the reactor vessel is removed and kept separately the rest of the submarine can be treated as scrap metal.

My guess the UK submarines were not designed for easy removal of the reactor vessel? Or maybe it was but the politics make it impossible to find a storage site so the Royal Navy decided to indefinitely delay it?
I think that parts of the vessel around the reactor chamber may have higher than normal levels of radiations well. I am unsure about this though. One who would know no longer posts here.
 

StingrayOZ

Super Moderator
Staff member
https://theconversation.com/australia-must-engage-with-nuclear-research-or-fall-far-behind-121503

From a professor from UNSW, which really just touches on the benefits of nuclear power in:
  • realising a much-needed national facility to store waste from our nuclear medicine
  • making our uranium exports competitive again
  • driving the navy’s submarines with nuclear power, and
  • possibly reconsidering the business case for a commercial spent fuel repository.
https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/nuclear-deterrence-and-the-us-australia-alliance/

Which talks about nuclear weapons and Australia and the US. Which is really summed up in the last paragraph.

Neither Australia nor the US has any interest in deploying US nuclear weapons in Australia. But we cannot assume this will pertain into the future. Whether we like it or not, deterrence will be central to the strategic shape of things to come in the Indo-Pacific, and it is time for Australia to step up.
There was also another post which deals directly with Australia developing its own nuclear arsenal.
https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/should-australia-build-its-own-nuclear-arsenal/

It would be easier to build nuclear weapons if we had in place a stronger core of nuclear skills in our workforce, some capacity to produce fissionable materials, and a suitable delivery vehicle. (More ‘ifs’.) Australia has few of those assets. We have one research reactor at Lucas Heights. We have neither an enrichment capability for uranium nor a reprocessing facility for plutonium. And our best delivery vehicle, the F-111, has long since faded into history. If Australia was to attempt to proliferate, using only national resources, we’d likely face a 15-year-plus haul.
This may give some context about RAAF interest in the B21.

Certainly Australia has decreased it capacity to build and deliver weapons, HiFAR is closed, and with that our little store of highly enriched uranium that came straight from the UK weapon line. The F-111 is gone, which during the 70's and 80's and early 90's at least regionally, was a reasonable platform for delivery. We even had havenap missiles for the F111. We have also generally decreased our research in nuclear technologies and things aren't as well placed.

That is not to say Australia couldn't look at some technologies that would make it easier. Some sort of enrichment processing capability. Some sort of indigenous missile capability. Capability to carry on Air and sea platforms.
 

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
As a uranium exporter, there is merit in a nuclear waste storage facility for the reasons stated in the article. As for nuclear reactors, probably best to see what successful thorium designs emerge. Nuclear weapons development , too many obstacles to overcome for a limited benefit. Better to let the US base them in Oz. Hopefully fusion happens.
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
As a uranium exporter, there is merit in a nuclear waste storage facility for the reasons stated in the article. As for nuclear reactors, probably best to see what successful thorium designs emerge. Nuclear weapons development , too many obstacles to overcome for a limited benefit. Better to let the US base them in Oz. Hopefully fusion happens.
Playing devils advocate.

The problem with the US basing nukes in Australia, is Australia then being a target for a nuclear strike in order to neutralise the US nukes. Plus Australia would have no control over the use of the US nukes, so if the US decided to use them in a war that Australia was not party too, then Australia would still be subject to possible nuclear retaliation. OTOH if Australia had its own nukes then it has sovereign control over the weapons and if it is subjected to a nuclear strike, it is not due to hosting another nations weapons over which it has no sovereign control, apart from acquiescing to their presence on its territory.
 

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
If basing without sufficient controls isn’t possible then perhaps a purchase of nukes is the answer if the US and Australia both think this improves the deterrence situation. Just can’t see domestic development as being possible politically and economically. This would never fly in Canada despite having much of the infrastructure to develop weapons.
 

seaspear

Active Member
It doesnt mean because the weapons can be developed that they should be developed ,there was research into other means of warfare that hasnt been covered in this forum starting this development may lead to an arms race locally and losing trust with regional allies
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
It doesnt mean because the weapons can be developed that they should be developed ,there was research into other means of warfare that hasnt been covered in this forum starting this development may lead to an arms race locally and losing trust with regional allies
There is that, but who would there be a nuclear arms race with? Indonesia can't afford to enter one, and neither can the Philippines. Pakistan & Indian are already nuclear armed powers. Malaysia and Singapore probably, but I think @OPSSG is far more qualified to answer that than me. SK and Japan. I think Japan wouldn't have a problem with it and SK is an unknown to me. Some sectors of NZ society, the anti US ones, would scream blue murder, and demand that we cut our relations, but I think that a work around could be agreed to. Maybe the CoA would just have to certify that every QANTAS aircraft isn't carrying nukes :D
 

OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
Malaysia and Singapore probably, but I think @OPSSG is far more qualified to answer that than me.... I think Japan wouldn't have a problem with it and SK is an unknown to me...:D
Can’t speak for Malaysia but it is likely to be a no for Singapore. There is little or no ambition to go nuclear in Singapore due to size constraints.

Surprisingly, google tells me that Malaysia has a Nuclear Agency (Agensi Nuklear Malaysia, ANM) but this is not a priority for its current government. Dr M said it had been the Malaysian government’s policy not to use nuclear plants to produce electricity. “That was the policy during my time as the 4th prime minister” but it was not (like that for) the 5th and 6th prime ministers. “But now I am back,” he said.

Japan and South Korea both operate civilian nuclear power plants. After Fukushima, the future of the nuclear industry in Japan is uncertain. In contrast, South Korea is among the world's most prominent nuclear energy countries, with 24 reactors and exports its technology widely. But President Moon Jae-in has promised to reduce South Korea’s dependence on nuclear energy, and has, since taking office, implemented measures to phase out this type of electricity generation. South Korea's oldest nuclear reactor Kori No.1 was permanently shut down in Jun 2017 after reaching the end of its 40-year-lifespan, the first South Korean nuclear power plants to be closed permanently. South Korea’s nuclear reactors supply about a third of the country's total electricity. During his campaign, Moon vowed to review plans to add new eight nuclear reactors, including the part-completed Shin Kori No.5 and Kori No.6. Moon said he will soon reach a consensus on the Shin Kori No.5 and Shin Kori No.6 reactors after fully considering their construction costs, safety and the potential costs of paying compensation.

Weaponisation is an incremental step that both Japan and South Korea, as latent nuclear powers, don’t need to take at the moment — as it is: (i) destabilising for NE Asia’s security dynamics that already has enough problems with North Korea’s antics; and (ii) not a vote winner for their domestic politics.
 
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StingrayOZ

Super Moderator
Staff member
Australia has always had some latent nuclear capability. However, for everyone's benefit we could see if we acquired them then it would be highly likely that would trigger Indonesia to get them and this was the main drive as to why Australia signed and became a big proponent of the NPT. I would assume for wide spread political support for basing nuclear weapons in Australia, issues Indonesia and other nations have been resolved. Given the current climate, I would say while not overtly happy about it, if it is to match a threat posed by another nuclear power, they wouldn't want to get into the middle of that and would probably make disproving comments, and certainly wouldn't manufacture there own weapons. Indonesia today doesn't fear nuclear weapons from the US or from Australia.

Having some latent capability isn't the same as having deployed nuclear weapons. Germany and Japan, Argentina, Brazil etc all have latent capability. Indonesia now isn't exactly starting from scratch either. Given the current situation it may be useful in increasing some of Australia's latent capability. We could easily start stockpiling Plutonium or Highly enriched Uranium and that wouldn't break the NPT. We had weapon grade 95% enriched Uranium operating in Hifar. As long as its for peaceful purposes, the NPT isn't a problem.

As with the NATO nuclear sharing, technically they are under US control unless a war breaks out at which point the NPT is not longer going to apply in a nuclear conflict. NZ complains about US nuclear weapons, but it doesn't stop the US having nuclear weapons.

If Australia ever had deployable nuclear weapons, they would likely be deployed on Submarines and via aircraft. Australia would quite happily declare any ship or plane that visits NZ isn't carrying nuclear weapons. The US situation is more complicated, and from a more complicated time.

Looking at specifically what sort of situation might cause this?
  • China moving long range nuclear weapons onto islands in the south China sea.
  • China or some other nuclear power making threatening statements to countries like Australia regarding a nuclear strike.
  • Extreme breakdown in the relationship with the US and China
  • US leaves the Pacific
Framing this the message that went out in 2017
North Korea publicly painted a nuclear target on Australia in April 2017. Kim Jong-un's regime seized on the fact that a contingent of US marines is now in a permanent, rotating deployment in the Northern Territory.
Specifically, the regime's main mouthpiece, the official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said: “If Australia persists in following the US moves to isolate and stifle the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] and remains a shock brigade of the US master, this will be a suicidal act of coming within the range of the nuclear strike of the strategic force of the DPRK.”
Now each country needs to consider the threats leveled against it.

However, Australia isn't as strongly anti-nuclear as its often made out to be.
I think Australia's situation is quite different to Canada's and NZ's. We aren't going to go and clearly break the NPT, but we are thinking a bit more about running a closer line to it. It is likely there is serious consideration to latent capability improvement.

A more likely outcome is the US operating its strategic assets more out of Australia. Subs and planes (B1, B2, B52) for example. That would probably be welcome by most neighboring nations.

Australia certainly seeks engagement with the US over its nuclear umbrella and with the UK with its capability.

Canada and NZ seems to be almost at polar opposites to Australia on a lot of this policy.
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
Play devils advocate again. @StingrayOZ how would your argument look if, for any reason, Australia was no longer covered by the US nuclear umbrella? You can't really depend upon the UK for any coverage because, despite all its political rhetoric it is not a Pacific power, rather an occasional visitor now, and is not directly threatened by an aggressive PRC. The question that has to be asked is would the UK go to war with the PRC and use nuclear weapons for Australia?
Canada and NZ seems to be almost at polar opposites to Australia on a lot of this policy.
Speaking as a Kiwi, I agree that NZ has, unfortunately gone down that route.
 

tonnyc

Well-Known Member
As a uranium exporter, there is merit in a nuclear waste storage facility for the reasons stated in the article. As for nuclear reactors, probably best to see what successful thorium designs emerge. Nuclear weapons development , too many obstacles to overcome for a limited benefit. Better to let the US base them in Oz. Hopefully fusion happens.
Given the abundance of uranium in Australia and the relative rarity of thorium there (at least as far as known deposits), Australia should not wait on thorium reactors but rather focus on making better uranium reactors with provisions for making them dual-fuel capable.

Thorium can not directly be used as nuclear fuel. Rather it must be transmuted first into U-233. So called thorium reactors are just reactors where this transmutation process happens inside the reactor rather than needing a separate "breeder reactor". However, the same nuclear transmutation can be applied to U-238 to get Plutonium-239. If the transmutation happens in the same reactor then this Pu-239 never gets out from the reactor and gets "burned" inside the reactor.

Practically all thorium reactors can be made to use U-238, and this is an area where Australian scientists and engineers could be proactive instead of waiting for the result of some other country's research.

A side effect is that this may reduce Australian uranium exports. Current conventional enriched U-235 nuclear fuel basically throws away 5 tons of depleted uranium for every ton of enriched nuclear fuel. A reactor that can efficiently use U-238 not only reduce the amount of new uranium needed, but turns all the stored depleted uranium and used nuclear fuel into potential nuclear fuel. Rather than waiting for India or China to perfect this technology and disrupt thd uranium market, Australia could get in and shift from supplying raw ore to supplying the reactors and the fuel both.

This in turn ties to the nuclear waste storage idea. Russia has started offering a service to buyers if their nuclear power plants where they will take back the used nuclear fuel so the buyer country doesn't need to worry about disposing those. Russia plans to reprocess those to remove the fission products (the fission products acts like impurities and interferes with both fission and transmutation) and feeding them to their fast neutron reactors (this is not necessarily the same as thorium reactors) which can consume U-238. In effect countries like Bangladesg and Egypt would be paying Russia to handle their used nuclear fuel and Russia will happily take their money and get free nuclear fuel out of it. Using them in fast neutron reactors also greatly reduces the long term radioactivity of the final waste, meaning they have less to worry about as far as final storage goes. Nice business strategy. But if Russia can do it, why not other countries? Why not Australia? Again, this will hinge on whether Australia develops the relevant technology (or license it from some other country), but those who proposes Australia as a used nuclear fuel storage facility have this in the back of their mind as a long term possibility.
 

Ananda

The Bunker Group
Indonesia now isn't exactly starting from scratch either. Given the current situation it may be useful in increasing some of Australia's latent capability. We could easily start stockpiling Plutonium or Highly enriched Uranium and that wouldn't break the NPT. We had weapon grade 95% enriched Uranium operating in Hifar. As long as its for peaceful purposes, the NPT isn't a problem.
Nuclear Power in Indonesia - World Nuclear Association

I put this as information on Indonesian nuclear program at this moment, just showing even with still some public opposition on Nuclear Power, sooner or later it will come. There are no other choices for efficient large scale power generation in the future.

The other ASEAN already looking on that, with Vietnam comes in mind. However weaponisation of Nuclear is far from there.
Attached is the PDF of Indonesian previous attempt for Nuclear weapons, during Soekarno era. One of main thing that drove SEA in the end goes NPT.

Point I would like to make is, Australia should also continues it's development in Nuclear tech, however stop on the weaponising. Stockpile plutonium if you want just as Japanese did.

Thorium seems getting traction in Indonesia, as more Thorium reserve found relative to Uranium ones. However, other countries that don't have either Thorium or Uranium reserve, has shown more willingness to go with Nuclear Power plant in near future. This is where Australia should capitalise, as leading Uranium producers.
 

Attachments

MrConservative

Super Moderator
Staff member
I do think the nuclear energy makes sense in the Australian base load context. Whether it is using its own Uranium resources or going down the Thorium MSR route thats a policy decision for it to make. Japan under Abe has reconfirmed a push to greater nuke energy use which again makes sense when metro Tokyo alone has the population of Canada. The downunder shaky isles for the time being does not need to bother as our research pivot by GNS (formerly Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences) is looking into Deep Geo-Thermal utilising supercritical fluids trapped beneath the Earth's crust which scientists say has the potential to deliver 10 times more energy than conventional geothermal energy. The south island has Thorium reserves so maybe as an insurance policy they should at least explore it.
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
I do think the nuclear energy makes sense in the Australian base load context. Whether it is using its own Uranium resources or going down the Thorium MSR route thats a policy decision for it to make. Japan under Abe has reconfirmed a push to greater nuke energy use which again makes sense when metro Tokyo alone has the population of Canada. The downunder shaky isles for the time being does not need to bother as our research pivot by GNS (formerly Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences) is looking into Deep Geo-Thermal utilising supercritical fluids trapped beneath the Earth's crust which scientists say has the potential to deliver 10 times more energy than conventional geothermal energy. The south island has Thorium reserves so maybe as an insurance policy they should at least explore it.
I believe that there is some uranium as well in the south Island close to the Alps, but am unsure about how much and if it is easily accessible. The Taupo Volcanic Zone has huge geothermal reserves because of Taupo being a super volcano, well until Taupo goes bang again. (It went bang 1,800 years ago covering the centre of the North Island in lava and ash, lahars etc., during a moderate eruption for it. About 280k years ago was it's last really big eruption.)

What I am unsure of is the Australian public attitude towards nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. As an outsider that is harder to gauge and would they be more accepting of nuclear power stations than they would be of nuclear weapons?

My question is, if the CoA decided to introduce nuclear power generation how much of a fight would they have on their hands?
Secondly, if they went one step further and decided at some stage to commence a nuclear weapons program, how much opposition would they have from the public?
 

StingrayOZ

Super Moderator
Staff member
Play devils advocate again. @StingrayOZ how would your argument look if, for any reason, Australia was no longer covered by the US nuclear umbrella? You can't really depend upon the UK for any coverage because, despite all its political rhetoric it is not a Pacific power, rather an occasional visitor now, and is not directly threatened by an aggressive PRC. The question that has to be asked is would the UK go to war with the PRC and use nuclear weapons for Australia?
If the US umbrella was to be officially and clearly withdrawn, or is simply not viable in the pacific, and in a situation where China brings its capability more forward to a more capable position. That would be exactly the type of situation where there may be bi-partisan support for a local capability, with the intention of covering other nearby neighbors (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, probably Japan, S.Korea too but they would probably seek their own capability, so in that case we would probably be talking about a combined capability), if they wished.

That would be a completely worse case scenario. A realistic fear is Australia (and its region including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, NZ, the Pacific etc) and its concerns not really weighing in the US priorities and decision making and other powers using that to their advantage. So in effect the US umbrella exists but doesn't effectively cover Australia, its region and its interests. That I think is a much harder state to assess, and how quickly could Australia build up a capability by the time bipartisan/majority support was to exist.

Which is why it is seen as important to "close the gap", and in being a capable power, both willing and able to step up if required, is a type of deterrence anyway. This is not about Australia waking up some day and just randomly choosing the burn its NPT obligations and acting like North Korea.

Thorium seems getting traction in Indonesia, as more Thorium reserve found relative to Uranium ones. However, other countries that don't have either Thorium or Uranium reserve, has shown more willingness to go with Nuclear Power plant in near future. This is where Australia should capitalize, as leading Uranium producers.
Australia already exports 10,000 tonnes of Uranium oxide, per year. 4,000 t comes from the Olympic Dam mine alone, which is in fact a Copper mine, that just also happens to have Uranium in its waste tailings. We already have enrichment technology that is world leading. (Separation of isotopes by laser excitation - Wikipedia). It would be comically easy for Australia to become the worlds largest enriched Uranium exporter in the world. From just uranium enrichment Australia could easily support Nuclear electrical power, Nuclear powered submarines, and a considerable Nuclear weapon arsenal of hundreds of war heads.

Nuclear electrical generation probably doesn't make economic sense in Australia, without some form of government investment or subsidy. That is not unusual, that is the case pretty much everywhere. Australia of course has near infinite solar, wind, and considerable coal, oil, gas, so it isn't a required source of power. Historically Coal and Uranium industries have clashed in Australia, coal sees uranium as a threat. That is changing now with Thermal coal going the way of the dodo and Uranium becoming more attractive as a low carbon alternative. However, if we had enrichment capability in Australia, it would certainly be feasible to build a civilian nuclear power plant, but it would not be a requirement.

The nuclear power question is a hard one to setup as a pure economic basis in Australia with so many solar and wind sites. However, the government has been quite happy to write and open cheque book for the Snowy 2.0 project, which is one of the largest Pumped hydro projects in the world. (Snowy 2.0 | Snowy Hydro Former energy boss sounds $10b warning on Snowy 2.0).

The uranium enrichment is effectively a no brainer, if allowed, Australia could increase its wealth by enriching Uranium on shore. That is a profit making business. The only reason we didn't do it was general opposition to doing anything other than digging a hole in the ground and shipping it overseas. It would also negatively affect other countries nuclear weapon programs making enrichment purely for weapons programs or for waste reprocessing (which no doubt Australia would offer to do for less, keeping the plutonium no doubt).

Australia has been down the nuclear rabbit hole before. We even poured the foundations for a breeder reactor at Jarvis Bay. ANSTO was specifically setup with nuclear weapons research production capability. It has extensive uranium hexafluoride production capability for a research lab.

https://dfat.gov.au/international-relations/security/asno/Documents/asno-annual-report-2016-17.pdf
What I am unsure of is the Australian public attitude towards nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. As an outsider that is harder to gauge and would they be more accepting of nuclear power stations than they would be of nuclear weapons?

My question is, if the CoA decided to introduce nuclear power generation how much of a fight would they have on their hands?
Secondly, if they went one step further and decided at some stage to commence a nuclear weapons program, how much opposition would they have from the public?
This is being looked into right now.
[URL="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-07/majority-of-kimba-residents-support-nuclear-waste-facility/11680774"]Majority of Kimba locals support nuclear waste dump
Nats go nuclear and formally support controversial energy source
Australians' support for nuclear plants rising – but most don't want to live near one

Things are fluid. [/URL]
 

Ananda

The Bunker Group
PAL Indonesia Siap Bangun Reaktor Thorium Thorcon - Dunia Energi

It's actually article about on going development between PT. PAL and Thorcon on developing Thorium Reactor.

Seems more and more signal come out on Thorium as potential choice for Indonesian first commercial Nuclear Power Reactor.
This article that I want to attach from Forbes, is not related to Naval ships, but related to Thorium Reactor from Thorcon. Seems the design of Thorcon reactor with Shipyard related to the intended floating based platform.

ThorCon Advanced Nuclear Reactor -- More Than Worth Its Weight In Salt

So far, Thorium seems promising less radioactive waste, and more efficient heat generation. Thus operated less nuclear fuel. Will see how this going to be developed.

I've copied @Ananda 's post over from the Indonesian 'green water navy' thread because it is informative on thorium reactors, in this case a floating one. The link is well worth the read.
Ngatimozart
 
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