Discussion | AUKUS: Impact of sharing nuclear submarine technology with Australia

Tshering22

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Ladies & Gentlemen, we all heard about the landmark alliance called AUKUS in the last two weeks' time. Australia, after several years of negotiation and contract issues, terminated the contract with the French for their Barracuda class nuclear-powered attack submarines. Canberra had two major reasons to defend their decision:

  1. The French nuclear propulsion technology required the Australian military to refuel their submarines every decade due to using low enriched uranium (LEU). This meant that the Australian Navy had to gain a first-hand knowledge in managing and safely handling nuclear fuel rods - something they do not know at all. Australia is one of the largest exporters of uranium on earth but does not have a civil nuclear program due to a political restriction by their parliament. Therefore, Australia would have to develop an entirely new training, recruitment and capacity building plan for a whole new breed of scientists, engineers, logistics professionals, and supply chain professionals to handle military-grade radioactive material.
  2. A second, related matter was that the American and British submarines use high enriched uranium (HEU), allowing the submarines to remain fuelled throughout their working lifespan. This was a better offer in the eyes of the Australian government.
  3. The other excuse was that of convenience. While the Australian media is busy bashing the French for allegedly delaying the deal and not delivering on time, it was a matter of time before the Australians jumped on board the program offered by fellow anglophone countries. The UK, USA and Australia are already a part of the NATO alliance. Australia has participated in all the coalition wars that the US has led. France on the other hand, is a completely different beast. While it has been an ally, it is also fiercely independent, demonstrating on several occasions that it won't hesitate to take a different approach than the US-UK led NATO. The comfort of 'being with the same people' made Australia consider their fellow Anglo-Saxons over the Francs.
But this fails to address a few elephants in the room;

A) Being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) how does Australia, with zero local nuclear management capability in either civil or military capacity, assure the world that they will safeguard the HEU fuel rods that they receive from their NATO partners?

B) On what grounds are the UK and the US giving Australia this access to such a secretive and complex technology? Does this mean that their military personnel will handle the nuclear material jointly with the Australian forces?

C) Does this excuse give a perfect opportunity to countries like Iran, China, or even India to start building up their own alliances of convenience with regards to nuclear-propelled submarine technology?

Comments and discussions welcome.
 

MonaLazy

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terminated the contract with the French for their Barracuda class nuclear-powered attack submarines
French nuke barracuda was never on offer, Australia was getting the conventional shortfin diesel electric version- because the West has tied itself into knots being the self declared thekedaars of nuclear tech- until the chains were broken now by the US & UK. The advantages of long legged nuke subs over diesel electric are pretty obvious.

When the contract was signed in 2016, Canberra wanted conventional diesel-powered subs.

But five years later, a trade war with China and growing concern about Beijing's assertiveness around the Pacific had led to calls for nuclear versions, which can stay submerged for longer.
 

Tshering22

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French nuke barracuda was never on offer, Australia was getting the conventional shortfin diesel electric version- because the West has tied itself into knots being the self declared thekedaars of nuclear tech- until the chains were broken now by the US & UK. The advantages of long legged nuke subs over diesel electric are pretty obvious.



I stand corrected. The proverbial broken chains that you speak of will now unbind the hands of both Russia and China - and maybe, even us to show some spine where our self interest is concerned. There are several countries who are interested in nuclear-powered SSNs even without nuclear missiles. With the US opening this Pandora's box, we are looking at a new age of nuclear proliferation, further underlining that the Anglophones only see self-interests; something that Indian governments have always failed to see in the long-term.

What I am mainly concerned about in Australia's case is their lack of experience in handling nuclear material; HEU is not a joke; Australia may know the safety handling procedures of exporting Uranium ore to their customer countries, but without domestic nuclear experience, they are a vulnerable point in the entire nuclear calculus. What's stopping a few Pakistani yahoos from entering Australia and trying to steal HEU for the black market?

Even the US has lost nuclear weapons past.
 

MonaLazy

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show some spine where our self interest is concerned.. only see self-interests; something that Indian governments have always failed to see in the long-term.
Presenting Indian spine:

We have extensive cooperation with Russia and have been informally engaged with US/UK on hand and France on the other for supplying us nuke submarine know-how but have been politely denied so far. With aukus India's own situation should change in the next few years- looking at France here.

So people in charge have been taking every step possible to safeguard our interests but tech denial regimes have been in the way. It is nuclear apartheid.

lack of experience
Of course, they will have to setup shore-based facilities needed for nuclear submarines because of the need for reactor maintenance, handling nuclear fuel and waste, degaussing facilities, submarine pens and even a VLF facility for communication. Now that the doors are opened to Oz, all help will be forthcoming across the spectrum of operating nuke subs.
 

MonaLazy

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Any idea if our nukes are LEU or HEU
40-50% HEU

the U.S. Navy and United Kingdom’s Royal Navy almost exclusively use an HEU enrichment that is as high as or higher than that used in nuclear weapons. Other navies, such as the Russian Federation and the Indian Navy, typically use HEU that is enriched in the 40 percent to 50 percent range, approximately one half that of the typical enrichment for nuclear weapons.5 Finally, the remaining navies (France and China) that have nuclear-powered vessels use LEU fuel, most of which is enriched to a level of less than 10 percent.

 

Aniruddha Mulay

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Any idea if our nukes are LEU or HEU
US- 97% enriched uranium reactors
UK- 97% enriched uranium reactors
France- 5-7% enriched uranium reactors
Russia- 21-45% enriched uranium reactors
India- 40% enriched uranium reactors
China- 4.2% enriched uranium reactors
 

MonaLazy

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Thanks - so not really much behind the rest of the world, except for US (and UK by extension as am adjunct) who are in a different league
LEU is not inferior to HEU! It is just a different approach to nuclear propulsion and offers both + & - over HEU. 90+% EU (US/UK approach) & LEU (France/China) both represent diametrically opposite ends of the spectrum and are both good choices- one not requiring refueling over the 30+ year life of the sub and LEU enabling refueling in a matter of months every decade or so. India/Russia have a middling approach with 40-50% EU, neither here nor there, so we need to refuel every 10-12 years and each time the sub will spend years in the dock.

IMO we should pick either the US/UK or alternately the French approach to have considerably larger on station time for our nuclear boats.


Considerations:
1633257401068.png



Take the example of France- if HEU was so superior why would they junk it in favour of LEU?
1633257515901.png



Why LEU?

1633258495321.png


1633258615805.png


1633259109479.png



Compact LEU-
1633259183069.png



Not so compact HEU-
1633259203718.png


LEU is a triumph of good design while HEU is brute force.

1633259412405.png

1633259434348.png


so given the right fuel LEU core volume is just 1.7-2.5x more than HEU for the SAME power.

Only the latest Virginia/Astute class offer this fill it, shut it, forget it feature- previous gens of their subs also used to spend years in the dock for refuelling. It is a major headache for HEU fueled reactors. We must either work hard and develop our HEU reactor tech to US level or go with the LEU approach from France.
 
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MonaLazy

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We must either work hard and develop our HEU reactor tech to US level or go with the LEU approach from France.
Yasen-M is indeed headed the Virginia-class way & must be using weapons grade Uranium.

1633264892895.png


Reasonable to assume India will follow a similar course.

 

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Sino-Wahabi lobby punishes Biden for AUKUS, Quad summit

 

MonaLazy

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U.S. shift away from HEU-fueled naval nuclear reactors could begin in the 2040s


If the US is to end its current practice of using weapon-grade highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to fuel its nuclear submarines, then the design of the next generation of US attack submarines needs to preserve the possibility of using a larger low-enriched uranium (LEU) reactor core or of refueling the reactor, a recently released report from the JASON advisory panel indicates. While the report observes that "the transition to an all-LEU fleet could begin in the 2040s," there is opposition to LEU fuel from the US Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, the Trump Administration and some in Congress.
The heavily redacted November 2016 analysis by the Jason group of military-technology consultants on the feasibility of developing and using low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel in US naval propulsion reactors was released in June 2019 as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). The US Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (NNPP) redactions of the Jason report appear to go far beyond legitimate requirements for protecting classified design information.
Currently, US and UK naval reactors are fueled by weapon-grade highly-enriched uranium (HEU) containing 93.5% of the chain-reacting isotope, U-235. (UK reactors are based on US designs and fueled with US HEU.) In 2012, the House Armed Services Committee asked NNPP to look at the possibility of developing LEU fuel for naval reactors. LEU contains less than 20% U-235 and is considered not to be directly weapon useable. The Congressional concern was that non-weapon states interested in acquiring or developing nuclear-powered submarines (Brazil and Iran, for example) could use the US example to justify producing and stockpiling weapon-usable HEU, which would destabilize the non-proliferation regime. France and China already use LEU fuel in their submarines. Russia and India use medium-enriched uranium.
The JASON report's major conclusions are:
  1. NNPP is testing a fuel with higher uranium density. The process is expected to take 20-25 years, i.e. till the 2040s.
  2. If the fuel tests out, it will be possible to refuel with 19.75% LEU at mid-life (about 25 years) most of the ten US Ford-class aircraft carriers, the first of which was commissioned in 2017.
  3. If the next-generation attack submarines that the Navy expects to begin ordering in the mid-2030s to succeed the Virginia-class are designed to accommodate larger cores, then it will possible to equip them with LEU lifetime cores when the new fuel becomes available.
  4. It is too late to design the next-generation Columbia-class US ballistic-missile submarines to use LEU cores but, if and when they are replaced, starting around 2070, the new submarines, which have about 2.5 times the displacement of attack submarines, would be correspondingly easier to design for large LEU lifetime cores.
In its markup of the Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal Year 2020, the House Armed Services Committee asked NNPP (see p. 494) if it could design the next attack submarine to fit a life-of-ship LEU core. It also asked about a possible alternative if the LEU core size constraint is too much of an obstacle:
"the committee directs the Administrator for Nuclear Security, in coordination with the Secretary of the Navy, to provide a report to the congressional defense committees not later than December 15, 2019, assessing the feasibility of a design of the reactor module of the Virginia-Class replacement nuclear powered attack submarine that retains the existing hull diameter but leaves sufficient space for an LEU-fueled reactor with a life of the ship core, possibly with an increased module length. If a life of the ship core is unattainable, the report should include the feasibility of a reactor design with the maximum attainable core life and a configuration that enables rapid refueling."
In its formulation of that question, the Committee raised an alternative approach to the challenge of LEU core life -- going back to mid-life refueling. Mid-life refueling was standard practice with the Los Angeles-class attack submarines, which still constitute the bulk of the US fleet of attack submarines; with the current Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines; and with all US aircraft carriers.
The JASON report accepts the nuclear navy's arguments for the economic benefits of lifetime cores for submarine reactors, which have been introduced in the Virginia-class attack submarines, 17 of which are deployed with one more launched and five under construction. The group was apparently unable to study France's rapid-refueling arrangements that have reduced the refueling times for French nuclear submarines to weeks versus the years it takes the US Navy. It also does not express concern, as at least one expert has, about possible corrosion failures of nuclear power reactor systems that would not be inspected for three to four decades. Problems with these life-of-ship systems, which are not designed for service access, can be very costly. In 2015, welding was found to be defective in a joint in the steam supply piping of three new Virginia-class submarines. Contriving a way to replace the joint took the first submarine out of service for two years. France's nuclear safety authority requires that French naval reactors be thoroughly inspected every ten years.
Five years ago, NNPP was receptive to Congressional interest in the development of LEU fuel - concluding in a 2014 study that "an advanced fuel system might enable either a higher energy naval core using HEU fuel, or allow using LEU fuel with less impact on reactor lifetime, size, and ship costs." (See also the 2016 report.)
More recently, however, NNPP has been lobbying against the LEU option with the result that, in 2018, the Trump Administration's Secretaries of the Navy and Energy wrote the Congressional Armed Services Committees:
"The replacement of highly enriched uranium with LEU would result in a reactor design that is inherently less capable, more expensive, and unlikely to support current life-of-ship submarine reactors. The LEU fuel system would affect operational availability of military assets due to necessary refueling, and would require significant new shipyard infrastructure."
As reported by Aftergood, the Trump Administration objected to funding for naval LEU fuel R&D in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 House Energy and Water Appropriations bill, and the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee, which had previously been passive on the issue, voted in its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for a "[p]rohibition on use of funds for advanced naval nuclear fuel system based on low-enriched uranium."
For its part, the House Armed Services Committee split on the issue. It accepted the report language cited above and directed the National Nuclear Security Administration to formally create a naval LEU R&D program, but it deleted by a 33-to-24 roll-call vote $20 million included in the Chairman's mark that had been authorized for research and development on LEU fuel. The amendment to delete funds was offered by Democratic Representative Elaine Luria, a former naval-reactor engineer representing a Virginia district containing the US Navy's largest shipyard, which builds all US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and half the modules for the Virginia-class attack submarines, and also contains Norfolk naval station, the world's largest naval base, homeport to four of seven US carrier strike groups. The full House did, however, approve $20 million in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill on June 19.
Until this year, naval LEU fuel R&D had been supported on a bipartisan basis with $5 million authorized and appropriated annually from FY16 to FY18, and $10 million in FY19 - all in bills signed into law by Presidents Obama and Trump.
 

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USA to supply MH-60R helicopters to Australia

On October 8, the US Department of State approved the delivery of 12 MH-60R helicopters to Australia at a cost of US $ 985 million. The helicopter manufacturer is the American company Sikorsky Aircraft Company.
 

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