Nuclear submarines announcement provides an opportunity for South Australia

SUBMARINE: Australia has joined the US and UK in a new trilateral security pact called AUKUS. Photo: AAP
SUBMARINE: Australia has joined the US and UK in a new trilateral security pact called AUKUS. Photo: AAP

South Australia will have a crucial role to play after an announcement today for plans to make the Australian Navy's best submarine fleet nuclear-powered.

A new alliance has been formed with the United Kingdom and United States for Australia to acquire a nuclear submarine fleet to help counter China's influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The fleet is the first initiative of a newly-formed trilateral security partnership called AUKUS.

While the new partnership means the end of the federal government's $90 billion project for French-designed submarines to be built in Adelaide, the new arrangement involves the submarines being built in South Australia, while the Collins class full-cycle docking will remain at Osborne.

The Collins life-of-type extension will now continue beyond 2026 as all six boats undergo capability extensions in South Australia, while the Navy's three Hobart class destroyers will also undergo their combat management system upgrades at Osborne from 2024.

The state government said this cemented South Australia's position as the shipbuilding capital of the country, with Premier Steven Marshall noting this was a jobs boost for the state.

"There are going to be jobs for today, jobs for tomorrow, and jobs for decades to come thanks to today's announcements," he said.

"Not only have we secured the build of the new nuclear-powered submarines right here in South Australia, we have secured the full-cycle docking and life of type extension of the Collins class submarines, as well as the upgrades for the Hobart class destroyers.

"The Collins class submarines were built here in Adelaide, the destroyer class were built here, the first two offshore patrol vessels are currently being built here, the frigates will be built here and Australia's new submarines will also be built right here in South Australia."

Federal Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey said the announcement was a positive for the state and discussed the possibility of Whyalla's steelworks being incorporated into construction.

He said South Australia was well placed to play a major role in construction and operations.

"We are waiting for finalisation on finance and a pathway forward for the Whyalla steelworks from Mr [Sanjeev] Gupta, but we will see how it goes," Mr Ramsey said.

"It will be Australian steel, although maybe not much out of Whyalla, however Whyalla steel has been used in the construction of facilities.

"Given it is the best part of a decade away before we start constructing, there is a lot of room for discussion about supplies."

The submarines will not be armed with nuclear weapons, but being nuclear-powered means they can stay quieter for longer and do not need to be refuelled.

Mr Ramsey said there had not been any discussion about whether a potential nuclear waste dump site near Kimba would be utilised to store nuclear waste from the submarines.

"These submarines are not likely to go into use until 2040 and this is a game changer as these new nuclear motors don't need refuelling for their life of service, which is 35 years, so there will be no waste inside the next 50 years," he said.

"In 50 years time there could be any amount of ways to dispose of waste.

"It is so far down the track that there is no reason to concern ourselves on that."

While in Port Lincoln on Thursday, Independent Senator Rex Patrick said it was a huge announcement that needed to be properly considered.

"I fully support the government in turning away from the French program which was hugely over budget and was running behind schedule, and there were questions as to whether it would deliver the right capabilities for Australia," he said.

"However, this news is extremely interesting - it's a complex program that has been proposed and there's got to be a lot of work done in order to be able to satisfy ourselves that we're not jumping out of the frying pan, into the fire.

"It's a very bold move by the government, noting we don't have a nuclear industry here in Australia, all of the other nuclear submarine operators have a nuclear industry upon which their navy can rely on."

Mr Patrick said there were aspects of the deal that had to be worked through.

"We haven't socialised the idea of nuclear reactors being berthed in Sydney or on the hardstands at Osborne, that needs to be worked through, we need to make sure there is a bipartisan agreement in relation to nuclear power because we can't embark down this pathway and have it halted ... if there's a change of government."

Mr Marshall said the state government would be working with the federal government and industry regarding transitional workforce plans.

"These new submarines will be significantly bigger and more advanced, and today's decision recognises the quality of naval shipbuilding in South Australia and our strong relationship with the federal government," he said.

This story Submarine boost for South Australia first appeared on Port Lincoln Times.