Watchdog vows ‘demanding’ monitoring of nuclear submarine deal

The head of the global nuclear regulator has vowed to be “very demanding” in overseeing the United States’ planned transfer of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, amid complaints that the US move could pave the way for bad actors to evade nuclear controls. the future

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spoke to journalists during his visit to Washington.

Mr. Grossi was also meeting with senior National Security Council officials to discuss issues including the newly announced agreement between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom on nuclear-powered submarines.

President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom announced in San Diego on Monday that Australia will buy nuclear attack submarines from the United States to modernize its fleet amid growing concerns about China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a press conference with US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Point Loma Naval Base in San Diego (USA) to discuss the purchase of nuclear-powered submarines under the agreement signed between the three countries. Aukus, a trilateral security agreement between Australia, the UK and the US (Stephan Russo/PA)

It would be the first transfer of nuclear-powered submarines from a nuclear-weapon state to a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Nuclear-powered submarines move more quietly and longer than conventionally powered submarines.

Strengthening the military position of the US and its allies in the region, the deal has raised concerns as the first in decades of nuclear non-proliferation agreements to take advantage of a loophole that allows the narrow use of nuclear materials across borders. establish guarantees.

Critics worry that bad actors could use the loophole as a cover, pointing to the US-Australia deal as a precedent for diverting nuclear materials into a weapons program.

China renewed its objections to the deal on Wednesday, accusing the three countries of “coercing” the IAEA into approving the deal.

All IAEA member countries should work to find a solution to the “guarantees issues” and “maintain international peace and security,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing.

Grossi denied China’s accusation.

“No one is forcing me. “No one is forcing the IAEA,” he told reporters.

Aucus, the name used by the three-nation grouping of the US, Australia and the UK, was “committed to the highest standards of transparency in the deal”, he said.

“We’re going to be very demanding about what they’re going to do,” Mr. Grossi said.

“So the process begins now.”

The architects of the nuclear non-proliferation treaties left an opening for the use of nuclear materials for some non-explosive military purposes, with nuclear naval propulsion in mind.

Before removing nuclear material from the gap safeguards, states are required to enter into a separate agreement with the IAEA.

Mr. Biden said on Monday that “we have set the highest standards for verification and transparency with the IEA, and we will honor every international commitment of our countries.”

James Acton, co-director of nuclear policy at the Carnegie Endowment, said he had no doubt Australia would be scrupulous about managing the nuclear material transferred to it in the deal with the United States.

But there was no guarantee other states would be as transparent, he said.

“I’m really worried that a future state, a rogue state, might say it’s removing nuclear material and safeguards for naval reactors and then use it to build nuclear weapons,” Mr Acton said.

In the past, US objections helped dissuade Canada when it discussed nuclear-powered submarines.

Iran has repeatedly expressed interest to the IAEA in developing nuclear naval engines.

Iran’s claims that its rapidly accelerating nuclear program is for civilian purposes have been widely discounted.

UN experts say Iran has enriched uranium to 84% purity, just short of weapons grade, although they say Iran is still months away from being able to build a weapon.

Separately, the IAEA said Iran pledged this month to restore cameras and other monitoring equipment at its nuclear facilities and to allow more inspections at facilities where it was recently found to have enriched uranium to weapons-grade levels.

On Wednesday, Mr. Grossi said he was sending a technical team to the job and that the process of stepping up monitoring and inspections would begin within days.

Meanwhile in Australia on Wednesday, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating launched a blistering attack on his country’s plan to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the United States, saying it “has got to be the worst deal in history”.

Speaking at a National Press Club event in Australia, Mr Keating said the submarines would serve no useful military purpose.

“The only way the Chinese can threaten or attack Australia is on land. So they’re bringing in an armada of warships with a huge army to capture us,” Mr Keating said.

“It can’t be done for the Chinese.”

He added that Australia will destroy any such Chinese armor with planes and missiles.

“The idea that we need American submarines to protect us,” Mr Keating said.

“If we take eight, three are in the sea. The three are going to protect us from the power of China. Really? I mean its rubbish. Garbage.”

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