The Guardian • Issue #1990

Australian-UK-US nuclear submarine deal exposes civilian-military links

Andy Stirling and Phil Johnstone, writing for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, highlighted several salient points in their paper, telling us a lot about the thinking of those pushing nuclear energy. It begins by saying that this transfer of nuclear submarine technology to Australia is a terrible decision for the non-proliferation regime and gives grave concerns for peace and global security. It brings increased risks in the Pacific region and certainly accelerates an arms race.

Australia does not have the specific skills, supply chains, or educational and research institutions to be able to handle nuclear subs. Then comes the question of waste management and security infrastructures which must be considered. These would all need to be in place were we to host nuclear subs.

As their paper states: “it also raises bigger questions about energy policy, climate strategies, and democracy itself.”

But what I’ve learnt from this is that shared civil-military industrial bases are mainly – albeit indirectly – funded by electricity consumers in America, the UK, and France. And the huge investments in new nuclear power are underwritten by the anticipated revenue from future electricity sales, i.e. paid for by electricity consumers, and then this investment flows through the nuclear construction supply chains to support military nuclear activities! This is crucial support for the military, paid for by the public and therefore not acknowledged in defence budgets.

So even with the diminishing use of civil nuclear power affecting the military, and the fact that renewables and storage options are far preferable to nuclear power, our policymakers are still pushing nuclear. Reading this paper explains why. Unfortunately, none of these arguments appear in discussions about energy and climate strategies, and only recently has there been some acknowledgement of the strong connection between civil and military nuclear capabilities.

In the UK, now-declassified defence reports show the concerns of a faltering civil nuclear program undermining the military. The sub building BAE Systems, and the naval reactor manufacturer, Rolls Royce admit that funding for civil programs masks military costs and relieves the burden for the Defence Ministry to retain skills and capabilities for military programs. The UK government, of course, denies this.

Boris Johnson is anxious to retrieve UK’s imperial strengths and a seat at the top table of world affairs, and has said that the AUKUS deal offers the UK “a new opportunity to strengthen Britain’s position as a science and technology superpower, and […] could reduce the cost of the next generation of nuclear submarines for the Royal Navy.”!

In America, high-level reports have acknowledged that the US military nuclear program depends on a vibrant civil nuclear sector. According to this report, civil nuclear activities transfer an effective value of $26.1 billion dollars to the US military nuclear enterprise.

Australia has a surfeit of abundant and affordable renewable energy resources. Yet, our nuclear lobby keeps arguing that acquiring military nuclear technology is beneficial and imperative for the establishment of a civil nuclear industry. The Minerals Council for Australia has recently come out in support – surprise, surprise!

So, obviously, our military needs a civil nuclear industry in order to sustain the competency of nuclear subs. With our lack of nuclear expertise, it’s ludicrous to think we could maintain military nuclear capability. We’d be the only country with nuclear subs and no civilian nuclear industry!

The paper goes on to expose the shenanigans going on politically – all very similar to our own – corrupt goings-on between politicians, public servants and the fossil fuel companies. This explains why, in Australia, we’re being fed with risky, costly and delay-prone nuclear options rather than renewables. COP26 is a great example of progress being impeded on vital climate targets. The public is kept in the dark – like mushrooms – and, therefore, as the paper states, the gravest damage inflicted by hidden nuclear military interests is not their warping effects on non-military policy but on the health of democracy.

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