Hypothetical Australian Nuclear discussions

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There is starting to be some kick back about the idea of using HEU for Australian Submarines. However it seems at the moment to be coming more from the US defence experts. Watching 7.30 report last night, the amount of HEU in a Virginia class submarine reactor is 500kg which is enough for 20 atomic bombs. My guess earlier was 250kg for ten a-bombs. Of course Australia is exceptionally unlikely to decommission a submarine to obtain HEU for atomic weapons. The main risk I see it is the precedent it makes. An example used on telly last night, say Vietnam bought a sub with HEU reactor, they would then if they really wanted to, be able to make 20 atomic weapons. It would be asking a lot for Australia to object the sale to a nation buying a HEU fuelled sub when our own subs are powered by HEU. The possible risk with regards to weapons proliferation, is more in the 2050 to 2100 time frame, as opposed to the short term, and with other nations, because of the precedent made by Oz

There may be a scenario, say the year 2080, Australia finds itself in a really precarious limited war, and the adversary as atomic weapons and is making very threatening remarks. At that time one of our fleet of subs is undergoing maintenance. There may be pressure at that time if the risk is deemed extreme, to use the fuel in one sub to make a strategic deterrent via bombs as a last resort. Very unlikely, very undesirable, would have great downsides in regards to alliances longer term; but not impossible

There may be a way out though. Have the uranium at say 85 percent enrichment.

Using 85 percent grade, the fuel would be unsuitable for a bomb (to the best of my knowledge). The loss is years of service that the submarine could operate before running out of fuel may be reduced by a year or 2, however I suspect the loss to be modest. Obviously this would need some redesign to the reactor, however logic suggests it would be modest, based on the fact some reactors use LEU (30 percent?) and some use HEU at 90 percent. For HEU reactors it may be that after decades of use, the purity of the fuel degrades after fission, so the enrichment level after 30 years of use may be a fair bit lower than the original 90 percent. Thus the reactor should work well without modification at 85 percent, at least initially, if it say degrades to 80 percent may/may-not be an issue. Please note that we have 20 years in which to allow a reactor designed to run on 90 percent enrichment, to run at 85 percent, logic suggests it should be possible

My gut feeling is that probably the best way to go would have been very large conventional subs, with lithium ion batteries and AIP, however that is not going to happen. What I do feel would be very useful would be some unmanned drone subs that could escort the larger manned sub. The drones would be all electric with lithium ion batteries of 200t to 500t size. It may even be possible for the drone to travel ahead of the manned sub a dozen miles or so, going slowly and connected via a fibre optic cable. I think in say 60 years you may even have really large drone subs, recharging smaller drone subs underwater. The larger sub, just a very large, very slow, simple floating battery milch cow. Every so often the smaller drone would rendezvous underwater for recharge discreetly, rather than having to transit thousands of miles back to Australia or a surface ship

 

Geddy

Member
There is starting to be some kick back about the idea of using HEU for Australian Submarines. However it seems at the moment to be coming more from the US defence experts. Watching 7.30 report last night, the amount of HEU in a Virginia class submarine reactor is 500kg which is enough for 20 atomic bombs. My guess earlier was 250kg for ten a-bombs. Of course Australia is exceptionally unlikely to decommission a submarine to obtain HEU for atomic weapons. The main risk I see it is the precedent it makes. An example used on telly last night, say Vietnam bought a sub with HEU reactor, they would then if they really wanted to, be able to make 20 atomic weapons. It would be asking a lot for Australia to object the sale to a nation buying a HEU fuelled sub when our own subs are powered by HEU. The possible risk with regards to weapons proliferation, is more in the 2050 to 2100 time frame, as opposed to the short term, and with other nations, because of the precedent made by Oz

There may be a scenario, say the year 2080, Australia finds itself in a really precarious limited war, and the adversary as atomic weapons and is making very threatening remarks. At that time one of our fleet of subs is undergoing maintenance. There may be pressure at that time if the risk is deemed extreme, to use the fuel in one sub to make a strategic deterrent via bombs as a last resort. Very unlikely, very undesirable, would have great downsides in regards to alliances longer term; but not impossible

There may be a way out though. Have the uranium at say 85 percent enrichment.

Using 85 percent grade, the fuel would be unsuitable for a bomb (to the best of my knowledge). The loss is years of service that the submarine could operate before running out of fuel may be reduced by a year or 2, however I suspect the loss to be modest. Obviously this would need some redesign to the reactor, however logic suggests it would be modest, based on the fact some reactors use LEU (30 percent?) and some use HEU at 90 percent. For HEU reactors it may be that after decades of use, the purity of the fuel degrades after fission, so the enrichment level after 30 years of use may be a fair bit lower than the original 90 percent. Thus the reactor should work well without modification at 85 percent, at least initially, if it say degrades to 80 percent may/may-not be an issue. Please note that we have 20 years in which to allow a reactor designed to run on 90 percent enrichment, to run at 85 percent, logic suggests it should be possible

My gut feeling is that probably the best way to go would have been very large conventional subs, with lithium ion batteries and AIP, however that is not going to happen. What I do feel would be very useful would be some unmanned drone subs that could escort the larger manned sub. The drones would be all electric with lithium ion batteries of 200t to 500t size. It may even be possible for the drone to travel ahead of the manned sub a dozen miles or so, going slowly and connected via a fibre optic cable. I think in say 60 years you may even have really large drone subs, recharging smaller drone subs underwater. The larger sub, just a very large, very slow, simple floating battery milch cow. Every so often the smaller drone would rendezvous underwater for recharge discreetly, rather than having to transit thousands of miles back to Australia or a surface ship

I don’t see any kickback about HEU being in the proposed Australian submarines, except from Turnbull who has personal reasons why he objects to the AUKUS deal. And you. I’d appreciate some sort of source for your contention, other than Turnbull.

Quite frankly I suspect if you asked the Australian public whether we should develop nuclear weapons it would be a resounding yes. Now, that won’t happen, but there would be strong support.

Really, HEU in the reactors is irrelevant.

As for large conventional subs…we all know how that went.
 

Julian 82

New Member
There is starting to be some kick back about the idea of using HEU for Australian Submarines. However it seems at the moment to be coming more from the US defence experts. Watching 7.30 report last night, the amount of HEU in a Virginia class submarine reactor is 500kg which is enough for 20 atomic bombs. My guess earlier was 250kg for ten a-bombs. Of course Australia is exceptionally unlikely to decommission a submarine to obtain HEU for atomic weapons. The main risk I see it is the precedent it makes. An example used on telly last night, say Vietnam bought a sub with HEU reactor, they would then if they really wanted to, be able to make 20 atomic weapons. It would be asking a lot for Australia to object the sale to a nation buying a HEU fuelled sub when our own subs are powered by HEU. The possible risk with regards to weapons proliferation, is more in the 2050 to 2100 time frame, as opposed to the short term, and with other nations, because of the precedent made by Oz

There may be a scenario, say the year 2080, Australia finds itself in a really precarious limited war, and the adversary as atomic weapons and is making very threatening remarks. At that time one of our fleet of subs is undergoing maintenance. There may be pressure at that time if the risk is deemed extreme, to use the fuel in one sub to make a strategic deterrent via bombs as a last resort. Very unlikely, very undesirable, would have great downsides in regards to alliances longer term; but not impossible

There may be a way out though. Have the uranium at say 85 percent enrichment.

Using 85 percent grade, the fuel would be unsuitable for a bomb (to the best of my knowledge). The loss is years of service that the submarine could operate before running out of fuel may be reduced by a year or 2, however I suspect the loss to be modest. Obviously this would need some redesign to the reactor, however logic suggests it would be modest, based on the fact some reactors use LEU (30 percent?) and some use HEU at 90 percent. For HEU reactors it may be that after decades of use, the purity of the fuel degrades after fission, so the enrichment level after 30 years of use may be a fair bit lower than the original 90 percent. Thus the reactor should work well without modification at 85 percent, at least initially, if it say degrades to 80 percent may/may-not be an issue. Please note that we have 20 years in which to allow a reactor designed to run on 90 percent enrichment, to run at 85 percent, logic suggests it should be possible

My gut feeling is that probably the best way to go would have been very large conventional subs, with lithium ion batteries and AIP, however that is not going to happen. What I do feel would be very useful would be some unmanned drone subs that could escort the larger manned sub. The drones would be all electric with lithium ion batteries of 200t to 500t size. It may even be possible for the drone to travel ahead of the manned sub a dozen miles or so, going slowly and connected via a fibre optic cable. I think in say 60 years you may even have really large drone subs, recharging smaller drone subs underwater. The larger sub, just a very large, very slow, simple floating battery milch cow. Every so often the smaller drone would rendezvous underwater for recharge discreetly, rather than having to transit thousands of miles back to Australia or a surface ship

Mate you have been pushing this proliferation barrow for two weeks now. Perhaps time to give it a rest. I get it, you don’t like nuclear submarines for Australia. Quoting Turnbull is disingenuous. The bloke has a planet sized ego and he is peeved his deal with the French has unravelled. He has an agenda. Please stop quoting ABC reports and Guardian articles. Both are not exactly leading publications when it comes to defence and both have left of centre agendas. Of course they would not like Australia to have capable defence forces. Not sure where you fit in, pushing AIP SSK submarines for a country like Australia with its enormous AO

@Julian 82 This type of thread is one that attracts the Moderators attention, so it pays to stick very close to the rules. Any more political posts like this from you anywhere on the forum will see some form of sanction from the Moderators. On this particular thread it will result in an immediate one month ban without any further warning. This is non negotiable and no further correspondence will be entered into.

Ngatimozart.
 
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John Fedup

The Bunker Group
The French use LEU and the refueling process is long and a PITA. I have no idea if dropping down to 85% HEU significantly reduces the viability of making bombs, I doubt it. Reactor performance on HEU must have been carefully evaluated so if 90% was selected it means the cost benefit reactor life time for this level was deemed best. As for the amount of HEU, 500 Kilos seems pretty high but I have no idea if this is accurate.
 
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We can agree to disagree.

For large conventional subs, maybe we should have gone German rather than French, I dont know, either way that is all over now. Like or dislike Malcolm Turnbull, the issue is with the arguments he makes not the person. There are going to be many high ranking experts within the US seeing the long term risks that a precedent like this makes, they are going to start pushing back big time. I predict in the weeks ahead you are going to hear a lot of push back from high ranking US defence experts

As far as I can tell, the entire situation can be averted if the reactor is fuelled with Uranium at 85 percent vs 90

HEU may be deemed irrelevant on this thread. That may be because many see it as a fantastic idea. I personally think nucelar powered subs is good for Australia if they could be had at a reasonable cost and were not fuelled by HEU. However in the other 194 nations in the world, they may see this development as a non nuclear weapons state, obtaining the material to make 20 atomic bombs, and feel this is a precedent that affects their safety. Those smaller nations will in all probability face a future when some of their neighbours go down this route.

Here is what I mean, if it is OK for Oz to use HEU fuel, then is it OK for Indonesia? how will PNG, Malaysia and the Philippines feel about that. Will Algeria feel it is now OK to get HEU fueled subs because Australia has, how will Spain, Italy and Morocco feel about that. Will Brazil get HEU fuelled subs, what about Cuba. If the US sells HEU subs to Australia, is it OK for Russia to sell HEU subs to Venezuela and or Cuba? If Australia gets these subs, is it now OK for Egypt,,, will Israel be OK with that? If Oz gets these subs, will it be OK for Turkey, will Greece be happy if Turkey has these? Is is now OK for Argentina to get these subs,, how will Chile react?

In the short term many nations will be able to afford these subs, and in the short term maybe Russia China wont sell them. But what in 30 years, things can change.

You may be OK for Australia to get atomic weapons. The downside is that if we do that, our neighbours will probably get anxious and there will be pressure for them to respond. This is why in general it is better to have fewer nations with atomic weapons as opposed to more nations
 

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
The real question is will China or Russia feel comfortable selling HEU sub reactors to some of the countries you mentioned, probably not worth it, economically, politically, or security wise.
 

Takao

The Bunker Group
This encapsulates the issue with pursuing a kit-focused view of Defence procurement - it ignores everything else and can undermine actual strategy.

@peterAustralia is correct to ask questions about the risk of proliferation. His specifics may be off (I can't imagine pursuing WMD via a sub reactor), but his underlying point is correct. The IAEA has already confirmed concerns about it. This means real risk in undermining Australia's outstanding non-proliferation work, stuff that we are world leaders on and, with our uranium reserves, we can expand on for global benefit.

Will this be worked through? Hopefully. But when China exports an SSN to DPRK or Iran, no-one in this nation can complain.

Quite frankly I suspect if you asked the Australian public whether we should develop nuclear weapons it would be a resounding yes. Now, that won’t happen, but there would be strong support.
Good thing that's just been done - and you are very mistaken

 
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OK. I will give it a rest, I know I am really annoying a lot of people here. Lockdown is over and am back to work Monday. I do realise I am peeving a lot of people, however I dont think people on this thread realise how big a thing this is. IMHO it is not about Malcolm, it is about the argument he makes. Generally I only make five posts a year, so I will bow out before the moderators kick me out. I am not against LEU nuclear subs, I am against HEU fuelled subs.

I used the 85 percent value as an indication. There has to be some value below which a chain reaction cannot occur. It may be 89 percent, 86 percent,, 79 percent. I know that Iran now has Uranium at 60 percent and they cant make a chain reaction... So for 85 percent, you can substitute the highest grade Uranium that is not suitable for weapons (HGUNoSFoW) - I just invented an acronym, pronounced Hgunos-fow. I will sod off for 3 months before the moderators kick me off
 
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CJR

Member
Fundamentally, a reactor able to produce Plutonium from un-enriched Uranium is 1940s tech. If you discard current non-proliferation agreements then pretty much any developed and many developing nations would be able to get such a setup up and running in maybe six months and be well on their way to a crude bomb within eighteen months

Compared to that getting hold of; operating; maintaining and dismantling a sealed SSN reactor is a multiple year (hell, potentially multiple decade) process. Thus, it's a far less realistic proliferation threat than just building your own reactors and bombs.

Of cause, that's not to say international perception of the sale of a naval reactor using highly enriched Uranium won't have a corrosive effect on non-proliferation efforts, just that it's not gonna have a significant technical effect.
 
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Geddy

Member
OK. I will give it a rest, I know I am really annoying a lot of people here. Lockdown is over and am back to work Monday. I do realise I am peeving a lot of people, however I dont think people on this thread realise how big a thing this is. IMHO it is not about Malcolm, it is about the argument he makes. Generally I only make five posts a year, so I will bow out before the moderators kick me out. I am not against LEU nuclear subs, I am against HEU fuelled subs.

I used the 85 percent value as an indication. There has to be some value below which a chain reaction cannot occur. It may be 89 percent, 86 percent,, 79 percent. I know that Iran now has Uranium at 60 percent and they cant make a chain reaction... So for 85 percent, you can substitute the highest grade Uranium that is not suitable for weapons (HGUNoSFoW) - I just invented an acronym, pronounced Hgunos-fow. I will sod off for 3 months before the moderators kick me off
Peter, it’s not annoying at all reading what you’re writing. It’s just that you seems to be making HEU an issue when it isn’t one.
Regarding proliferation, I agree that we need to stop nuclear weapons getting in the hands of more countries, however I would contend that Australian nuclear subs have no effect whatsoever on this. The subs are nuclear powered, not armed.
For that reason I don’t think any other country in the region would want to develop nuclear weapons because we have nuclear powered submarines. In fact, having lived in Asia for over 20 years, I think many of our neighbours are happy about it, as it provides a response to Chinese expansion. I can tell you it’s not news in Asia at all. One or two comments but not much and they’ve all disappeared. Australian military strength is not a negative sentiment in Asia.

I also would reiterate that conventional subs were looked at for a decade or more as a replacement for Collins and were rejected in the end.
 

Julian 82

New Member
This encapsulates the issue with pursuing a kit-focused view of Defence procurement - it ignores everything else and can undermine actual strategy.

@peterAustralia is correct to ask questions about the risk of proliferation. His specifics may be off (I can't imagine pursuing WMD via a sub reactor), but his underlying point is correct. The IAEA has already confirmed concerns about it. This means real risk in undermining Australia's outstanding non-proliferation work, stuff that we are world leaders on and, with our uranium reserves, we can expand on for global benefit.

Will this be worked through? Hopefully. But when China exports an SSN to DPRK or Iran, no-one in this nation can complain.



Good thing that's just been done - and you are very mistaken

Well given North Korea has nuclear weapons and Iran is close to acquiring weapons, I don’t see the point in complaining regarding the proliferation effects should either of these states acquire SSNs. I’m afraid the horse has bolted. It really sounds like people are trying to make this more complicated than it has to be. The US/Uk reactors don’t require refuelling for their life. LEU are a non-starter for Australia for all the reasons previously outlined by others in previous posts.
 

StingrayOZ

Super Moderator
Staff member
This is the thread for Australian nuclear and related discussions. Lets try and keep them out of the RAN (and other threads).

Australia is a NPT signature, and has no open ambition to get nuclear weapons. This isn't a nuclear fantasy thread.

However, there are some valid side discussions around these issues and particularly around the SSN fueling and fuel security and international views on this.
 
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Stampede

Well-Known Member
OK. I will give it a rest, I know I am really annoying a lot of people here. Lockdown is over and am back to work Monday. I do realise I am peeving a lot of people, however I dont think people on this thread realise how big a thing this is. IMHO it is not about Malcolm, it is about the argument he makes. Generally I only make five posts a year, so I will bow out before the moderators kick me out. I am not against LEU nuclear subs, I am against HEU fuelled subs.

I used the 85 percent value as an indication. There has to be some value below which a chain reaction cannot occur. It may be 89 percent, 86 percent,, 79 percent. I know that Iran now has Uranium at 60 percent and they cant make a chain reaction... So for 85 percent, you can substitute the highest grade Uranium that is not suitable for weapons (HGUNoSFoW) - I just invented an acronym, pronounced Hgunos-fow. I will sod off for 3 months before the moderators kick me off
Not annoying me

Some good questions

What ever attributes a future N Sub bring, I feel there are many layers to this decision that bring cause for concern on many many levels

With little known today as to what we will actually get and the time table for implementation, we are currently very much in the dark.

The constant of coarse is the future boat will be nuclear powered.

If it was a my tank is bigger than your tank your scenario, then who wouldn't want the bigger tank.

This however is not just about just getting an Apex bit of kit to do a niche role.

It has many layers of complexity

Design, sovereignty, manufacturing time table ,domestic security ,governance ,safety, end of life issues ,domestic acceptance ,life of type bi partisan political acceptance, international tolerance and ramifications. Alliance pay back, relevance in the future under water domain, Unmanned under sea developments, cost, cost again, N benefits V conventional technology, Future battery developments, the impact subs play in achieving broad outcomes relevant to our region. Subs are not magic wands there is a lot they do not do.
In the Maritime domain they don't do constabulary stuff very well { Boarder patrol },they don't do logistics' they don't do HADR plus not great at MCM and Survey work; in the AIR domain they do squat and there influence on Land outcomes is negligible........I'm sure others could add to the list.

Subs are a niche system that has a place within the ADF.
Suggest going Nuclear is a bridge to far


Concerned S
 

Arclighy

Member
OK. I will give it a rest, I know I am really annoying a lot of people here.
@peterAustralia you yave a particular view and l respect that. I hope you stick around. l can't imagine that all those things that you mentioned would not have been discussed and analysed in the period leading up to Australia's announcement re nuclear powered subs. Regionally, those who have had something to say in response to Australia's decision have stated their point and moved on. The bottom line for the region is that many nations face increasing threats and incursions into their waters by the PLAN. It is not a benign environment. Publicly they all have their own ways of dealing with this. Quite often ASEAN keeps quiet about such things. But there hasn't been any massive outrage as far as l can see. NZ said what they had to say, Indonesia and Malaysia also. In economic, defence and security matters there are big shifts happening in our region and in other parts. This is just part of those shifts. Very interesting times.
 

hauritz

Well-Known Member
A quote from Dr Strangelove
"The whole point of a doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret"

Australia isn't about to secretly turn HEU into bombs. There is simply no upside to doing this. This is why it was made very clear that this was simply about building nuclear submarines and no doubt all sorts of safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the expended fuel won't be used for nuclear weapons.

In a total war of course everything is back on the table but the whole point of Australia getting nuclear subs is to discourage the possibility of that war happening in the first place.
 

vonnoobie

Well-Known Member
The French use LEU and the refueling process is long and a PITA. I have no idea if dropping down to 85% HEU significantly reduces the viability of making bombs, I doubt it. Reactor performance on HEU must have been carefully evaluated so if 90% was selected it means the cost benefit reactor life time for this level was deemed best. As for the amount of HEU, 500 Kilos seems pretty high but I have no idea if this is accurate.
Doing some very rough math and plenty of guesswork (not a nuclear engineer here) but if a 1000Mwe nuclear reactor uses 25 tons of enriched uranium at 3 - 5% then the S9G at 21% the size works that down to 5.25 tons, then if you account for the higher enrichment (guessing here sorry) going from say 5% to 90% I think if my various googling is accurate and I understand it fully reduce the amount to 1/18th of that, or 291.66kg or at 85% enrichment would be 308.82kg for 210Mw reactor.
 

aussienscale

The Bunker Group
Verified Defense Pro
Doing some very rough math and plenty of guesswork (not a nuclear engineer here) but if a 1000Mwe nuclear reactor uses 25 tons of enriched uranium at 3 - 5% then the S9G at 21% the size works that down to 5.25 tons, then if you account for the higher enrichment (guessing here sorry) going from say 5% to 90% I think if my various googling is accurate and I understand it fully reduce the amount to 1/18th of that, or 291.66kg or at 85% enrichment would be 308.82kg for 210Mw reactor.
Here is some good background reading on the subject, some heavy reading, especially if you drill into the references in the links below


Some good info here and numbers, HEU percentages, stock holdings, transfers between the UK and US


An interesting report on the French programme, reasoning behind etc, note the system that France has for refueling there naval reactors and the civil regulatory reasons behind it, but the system dramatically reduces both the time and expense of reactor refueling.


Another good report from FAS, again as with all of these, some really heavy and in depth reading in the reference quoted on the subject

Cheers, have more I can post if interested
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
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Verified Defense Pro
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vonnoobie

Well-Known Member
Here is some good background reading on the subject, some heavy reading, especially if you drill into the references in the links below


Some good info here and numbers, HEU percentages, stock holdings, transfers between the UK and US


An interesting report on the French programme, reasoning behind etc, note the system that France has for refueling there naval reactors and the civil regulatory reasons behind it, but the system dramatically reduces both the time and expense of reactor refueling.


Another good report from FAS, again as with all of these, some really heavy and in depth reading in the reference quoted on the subject

Cheers, have more I can post if interested
Been reading through it in my spare time, hopefully tomorrow will have more time and if you got more then please do share. One should always strive to expand their knowledge base.
 

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
Here is some good background reading on the subject, some heavy reading, especially if you drill into the references in the links below


Some good info here and numbers, HEU percentages, stock holdings, transfers between the UK and US


An interesting report on the French programme, reasoning behind etc, note the system that France has for refueling there naval reactors and the civil regulatory reasons behind it, but the system dramatically reduces both the time and expense of reactor refueling.


Another good report from FAS, again as with all of these, some really heavy and in depth reading in the reference quoted on the subject

Cheers, have more I can post if interested
I found the accelerated testing article most interesting. While undoubtedly the USN has good data on fuel rods and pressure vessel wear from old power reactors that required refuelling, it does seem somewhat concerning that LOS reactors will never be inspected, There seems to be a great deal of faith placed in accelerated testing for new materials that will be subjected to fission byproducts for 33 years. As the article states, economic and operational advantages for sure but there is the potential for major costs to repair even a failed fuel rod let alone a pressure vessel failure. Also, a massive PR nightmare for the USN if the latter were to occur.

The article on the French navy's decision to go with refuelled LEU reactors really was a no-brainer, With much of nuclear infrastructure cost already being in place via the commercial power sector, it made little sense to incur new developmental costs going with a HEU reactor. The automated refuelling technology seems to have minimised the turn around time. If Sweden or Germany had similar technology they likely might have been able to get Australia onto SSNs years ago. The French seen to be so difficult to deal with.
 
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