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If the US umbrella was to be officially and clearly withdrawn, or is simply not viable in the pacific, and in a situation where China brings its capability more forward to a more capable position.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.
This is being looked into right now.
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?
[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]