AUKUS deal may spark off race to acquire nuclear submarines, warns IAEA chief

WION Web Team
New DelhiUpdated: Oct 20, 2021, 03:17 PM IST

(File photo) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi Photograph:(Reuters)

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Rafael Grossi said it “cannot be excluded” that other countries would use the AUKUS precedent to pursue their own nuclear submarine plans

The chief of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—the UN’s nuclear watchdog—has warned that the nuclear submarine deal signed between Australia, US and UK could potentially spark off another race for nuclear submarines, suggesting that “other countries might follow Australia’s example”.

During a visit to Washington, Rafael Grossi, the director general of the IAEA, said he had sent a special team to look into the safety and legal implications of the AUKUS partnership announced last month, in which the US and UK will help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, reports the Guardian.

“We have to have specific agreements to make sure that whatever they receive technology-wise or material-wise, is under safeguards,” Grossi was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

“There has to be a specific arrangement with the IAEA. Now we have to dot the Is and cross the Ts, which has never been done before, and it’s a very, very demanding process,” he added.

Grossi said it “cannot be excluded” that other countries would use the AUKUS precedent to pursue their own nuclear submarine plans.

According to the Guardian, Canada and South Korea are contemplating building nuclear-powered submarines, which can stay underwater longer and are quieter than their conventional counterparts. Brazil too has an ongoing nuclear submarine project.


Grossi said one of the key factors that is hindering other nations to emulate Australia was the technical challenges in building a nuclear-propelled submarine.

“To have a nuclear reactor in a submarine in a vessel operating safely is a very difficult thing to do,” he said.

The IAEA director general said the US and the UK need ensure that the nuclear material and technology was transferred to Australia in a safe way that did not raise risks of nuclear weapon proliferation.

He said the issue had been raised in his talks with US secretary of state Antony Blinken in Washington this week.

“I think he’s fully aware of the implications, and we are going to have an engagement, formal engagement, soon in a tripartite way or otherwise,” Grossi said. “I already set up a taskforce within the inspectorate, composed of very experienced safeguards inspectors and legal experts to look into this.”

The AUKUS pact will also focus on military capability, an sharing of cyber capabilities and other undersea technologies.

The AUKUS is being seen as a counterbalance to China’s growing influence in the South China Sea.

China has slammed the move saying the pact “seriously undermines regional peace and intensifies the arms race.” 

The AUKUS deal also spurned France as it forced Australia to cancel a $37bn deal with a French company building diesel-powered submarines.

France was also irked with the fact that despite being a traditional Western ally, it found out about the new pact only a few hours before the public announcement.

(With inputs from agencies)