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22 October 2021

Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised his proposed nuclear submarines will be built in Adelaide without first obtaining the most basic nuclear safety advice from Australia’s nuclear safety regulator.  

“There’s no doubt that the Prime Minister’s nuclear submarines scheme is a huge exercise in filling in the blanks; unfortunately this extends to nuclear safety assessments and advice,” Independent Senator Rex Patrick said today. 

“In a response to a Freedom of Information application lodged last month, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency – ARPANSA – has advised that no safety assessments or studies have ever been undertaken relating to the presence of any nuclear-powered vessel at Port Adelaide or Outer Harbour.” 

“In September the Prime Minister promised that his proposed nuclear submarine construction program will take place in Adelaide.”

“Such a program would inevitably involve nuclear powered submarines moored at Port Adelaide or Outer Harbour for extended periods, as well as nuclear reactors on hardstands at a shipyard.”

“This would be a highly significant level of nuclear related activity in a port that has never been approved by the interdepartmental Visiting Ships Panel (Nuclear) to host even a short-term visit by a nuclear powered warship.”

“No nuclear powered vessel has ever visited Adelaide – not once in the 66 years since the first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus was commissioned."  

Last Friday Australia’s nuclear safety regulator ARPANSA told the Senate Economic References Committee inquiry into naval shipbuilding that they were only consulted about the proposed nuclear submarine program a few months before the Prime Minister’s nuclear submarines announcement. 

ARPANSA is represented on and provides nuclear safety assessments to the Visiting Ships Panel (Nuclear).  

In response to an FOI application lodged last month, ARPANSA has now confirmed that they have undertaken no work whatsoever to consider the suitability for Port Adelaide or Outer Harbour for visiting nuclear-powered warship visits.

ARPANSA’s Senior Scientist has advised that the agency does not presently hold any documents relating to such matters.

Senator Patrick said: “One might have thought that some work would have been undertaken to consider Adelaide’s suitability for at least nuclear powered warship visits before the Prime Minister’s big announcement last month."  

“That is a task that ARPANSA undertakes on a regular basis in relation to other locations including HMAS Stirling, Fremantle, Darwin and Brisbane.”

“While the safety assessments required for nuclear submarine construction and long-term berthing facilities would be a very complex undertaking, a port visit safety assessment of Port Adelaide and Outer Harbour would have been minimum due diligence before the Prime Minister promised his nuclear subs would be built in Adelaide.”  

“It may be that future studies will find Port Adelaide or Outer Harbour are safe locations for such activity, or they may not meet ARPANSA safety criteria.”  

“As things stand today, however, the Prime Minister has announced a nuclear warship construction project at a location that has never been visited by a nuclear powered vessel and, in the absence of required safety assessments and approvals, could not currently even host a single-day visit by any nuclear powered submarine.”

“As is so often the case, Scott Morrison’s Government hasn’t done the basic preliminaries. It’s big on announcements, but fails conspicuously on due diligence and competent project management.”