AUKUS Trilateral Statement – Delivered by Ambassador Ian Biggs – Agenda Item 6e – Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Australia
Vienna, Austria, June 6, 2023
Thank you, Chair
I have the honour of speaking on behalf of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
We thank Director General Grossi for his report on Australia’s naval nuclear propulsion program.
We are committed to transparency, and we welcome the opportunity to address genuine questions regarding our non-proliferation approach. It is appropriate that these be discussed here, with the release of the Director General’s report and his addition of this item to the agenda.
On 13 March this year, following an 18-month consultation period, the leaders of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced the optimal pathway for Australia’s acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines. The 58-page optimal pathway report was publicly released the same day. I have hardcopies here, for interested delegations.
The optimal pathway will ensure Australia safely and securely operates its nuclear-powered submarines in full compliance with its non-proliferation commitments and obligations.
We will pursue a phased approach, which includes the acquisition by Australia of Virginia class submarines in the early 2030s, and the acquisition of a trilaterally developed submarine – the SSN-AUKUS – in the early 2040s.
As we have previously advised, the nuclear fuel for Australia’s submarines will be supplied to Australia in complete, welded nuclear power units that will not require refuelling during their lifetime. Australia will not enrich or reprocess nuclear material or fabricate fuel for its naval nuclear propulsion program.
As reflected in the Director General’s report, the AUKUS partners held eleven technical consultations with the IAEA throughout the 18-month consultation period.
Following the leaders’ announcement, in May 2023 the Agency conducted an in-field design information verification and, at Australia’s invitation, a transparency visit to an Australian naval base.
Also in May 2023, Australia and the Agency commenced discussions on the technical elements of an Article 14 arrangement pursuant to Australia’s CSA. The Director General has confirmed that, upon finalisation, he will transmit this arrangement to the Board for appropriate action.
The Director General’s report confirms that Australia continues to fulfil its reporting requirements under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, Subsidiary Arrangements and Additional Protocol.
We have been asked what precedent our approach will set. Australia’s approach will establish the standard and expectation that any non-nuclear weapon state acquiring NNP can do so within the framework of its safeguards agreements with the IAEA, by establishing an arrangement under Article 14 – or its equivalent – of its CSA, as foreseen under INFCIRC/153. It does not create a model or template for implementation applicable in all scenarios.
Such an Article 14 arrangement allows the IAEA to continue to meet its technical safeguards objectives throughout the full lifecycle of the NNP program.
The Director General’s report makes clear that, crucially, Australia’s Article 14 arrangement will not remove nuclear material from IAEA oversight.
Throughout the lifecycle of Australia’s program, the Agency will be able to continue to verify and conclude that there has been no diversion of declared nuclear material, no misuse of facilities and no undeclared nuclear material or activities.
The Director General’s 14 March statement underscored that the Agency’s role in relation to NNP is foreseen in the existing legal framework and is within its statutory competencies. The Director General has also been unequivocal in confirming that the Agency has the technical capacity to develop safeguards approaches for naval nuclear propulsion, in accordance with the Statute.
Australia’s approach will ensure that the IAEA has sufficient tools to verify that its declarations are complete and accurate. In Australia’s case, this includes the application of an Additional Protocol, which we continue to urge all states to conclude.
IAEA safeguards are fundamental to the international non-proliferation regime.
We all rely upon and trust in the IAEA to undertake its critical safeguards function with integrity and independence. Under the provisions of Board-approved safeguards agreements, we rely on the Secretariat to develop and implement safeguards approaches across the entire nuclear fuel cycle – bilaterally and in-confidence. And we trust the Secretariat to draw conclusions regarding member states’ compliance with their safeguards obligations.
We continue to oppose calls for parallel processes, which risk undermining the Secretariat’s technical independence, and open the IAEA’s implementation of member states’ Board-approved safeguards agreements to outside political interference.
The Board is the appropriate place for any discussion on safeguards implementation. In line with our commitment to openness and transparency, we will continue to provide updates to the Board as appropriate.
In the interest of openness and transparency, we request that the Director General’s report – GOV/INF/2023/10 – be made public.
Thank you, Chair.