International Atomic Energy Agency endorses AUKUS with key reservations
Photo: Defence Connect
Despite several reservations, the International Atomic Energy Agency has endorsed Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines after the AUKUS announcement this week.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the centre for nuclear cooperation within the United Nations, has 176 member states, and promotes safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
IAEA director general Rafael Grossi outlined guidelines for nuclear submarine cooperation between the US, the UK, and Australia in a public statement made from Austria on 14 March.
“The AUKUS parties have safeguards obligations which need to be implemented in accordance with their respective safeguards agreements and additional protocols with the agency,” he said.
“Australia as a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons concluded with the agency a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) in connection with the NPT and an additional protocol thereto (AP).
“Under the CSA, the agency has the right and obligation to apply safeguards to all nuclear material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of Australia, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
“Article 14 of Australia’s CSA allows Australia to use nuclear material which is required to be safeguarded under the CSA in a nuclear activity, such as nuclear propulsion for submarines, provided that Australia makes an arrangement with the agency in this regard.
“The United Kingdom and the United States are nuclear-weapons states party to the NPT and have each concluded with the agency a voluntary offer safeguards agreement (VOA) and an AP thereto. Under their VOA they need to report to the agency international transfers of nuclear material to NNWSs and under the AP the exports of equipment specified in the AP.
“The legal obligations of the parties and the non-proliferation aspects are paramount. The agency will continue to have its verification and non-proliferation mandate as its core guiding principle.”
Grossi confirmed that separate communications had been received from Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, as well as from UK and US representatives.
He said all parties had advised there would be three stages of implementation for the AUKUS project during the next three decades. These would include training and capacity building, acquisition of complete conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines, and the acquisition of complete, welded power units for submarines to be built in Australia.
“In their communications, the AUKUS parties reaffirmed their previously stated commitment that maintaining the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and agency safeguards remains a core objective in relation to AUKUS,” Grossi said.
“They also committed to maintaining the strength of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and to fulfilling the non-proliferation and safeguards obligations under their respective agreements with the agency.
“I also note Australia’s previous declaration to the agency that it does not intend to pursue uranium enrichment or reprocessing in relation to AUKUS and that it has no plans to undertake nuclear fuel fabrication as part of this effort.
“Ultimately, the agency must ensure that no proliferation risks will emanate from this project.
“I will keep the board of governors and member states of the IAEA informed of our future work as the discussions with the AUKUS Parties continue … I will also submit a report on this matter to the next regular session of the board of governors, to take place in Vienna in June 2023.”