‘Nothing to be feared’: Premier says no nuclear headaches for neighbours

Premier Peter Malinsauskas says South Australians will be comfortable living near a nuclear-submarine construction yard at Osborne, as are households next to a similar site he recently visited in Barrow-in-Furness in the United Kingdom.

Mar 20, 2023, updated Mar 20, 2023
Premier Peter Malinauskas with Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong at Osborne last week. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Premier Peter Malinauskas with Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong at Osborne last week. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Malinauskas has not yet discussed the issue with Port Adelaide Enfield Council or residents living near the site where nuclear reactors for new submarines will be delivered, but said houses in the north-west town in England he visited last week were sited close to nuclear submarine construction yards.

Ever since the AUKUS pact and decision to scrap the French subs contract for nuclear submarines was first revealed by the Federal Government 18 months ago, Malinauskas said the Lefevre Peninsula community has known nuclear technology involving nuclear reactors will be located nearby in the future.

“There has been engagement obviously at a preliminary stage, but the feedback that we have got, particularly the local MPs have got, is that there is nothing to be feared because we know it has been done safely in many other parts of the world,” he said.

“I was there in Barrow where you can literally, you could stand on the roof of suburban homes and feel like you could almost touch, literally, the factory, that has been built up next to them where nuclear submarines are built.”

Malinauskas said it was important to embark on the rapidly planned trip to visit the UK shipyard last week and to meet government and industry officials after last Monday’s announcement to hear what skills SA needed to build nuclear-powered submarines in the up to $368 billion AUKUS program.

“These are all skills related to nuclear and we don’t have any of that in SA now, if you want to develop a workforce that’s equipped to be able to participate in a nuclear cycle under the nuclear stewardship program that all rests with the State Government,” he said.

The trip was planned around parliamentary sitting times and “there’s a lot of momentum that exists on the back of that announcement and there was great value on being on the ground to speak to key decision makers”.

Work on building the first nuclear-powered submarine under the program announced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will start in Adelaide this decade, with $2 billion earmarked to immediately begin construction on site at Osborne.

The Commonwealth Government document released last week AUKUS Nuclear Powered Submarine Pathway A Partnership for the Future outlined program details.

“The precise nature and locations of nuclear-related facilities at the Submarine Construction Yard (in Osborne) are yet to be determined and will be the subject of comprehensive technical analysis and assessments, undertaken in accordance with international best practice,” the report said.

“The United Kingdom and United States intend to provide Australia with nuclear material in complete, welded nuclear power units that will not require refuelling during their lifetime.

“This removes the need to routinely access the fuel element, reduces the amount of spent fuel produced and avoids the need to maintain a stockpile of fresh fuel.”

Port Adelaide Enfield Mayor Claire Boan declined to comment about how the region felt about nuclear-powered submarines being built close by as she had not yet been briefed about the program, saying the council was only distributing a statement.

“Port Adelaide and the peninsula have seen significant investment and growth off the back of previous defence contracts,” the Mayor’s statement said.

“This AUKUS deal has the potential to continue the transformation and growth of our local economy in the City of PAE, and the wider state of SA, with incredible opportunities for business, education, employment and infrastructure.”

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Construction of  nuclear reactors for the new submarines will be undertaken by Rolls Royce at the Barrow-in-Furness site in England’s north west.

And part of the AUKUS deal is that Australia will provide $3 billion to the United States and the United Kingdom to support offshore production lines.

A media release issued by Rolls-Royce Submarines Ltd said: “On Monday 13 March, as part of the AUKUS trilateral agreement between Australia, the UK and the US, it was announced that Rolls-Royce Submarines Ltd will provide reactors for Australia’s nuclear powered submarines.”

The statement said the announcement could see thousands of jobs created for Rolls-Royce and across the UK supply chain.

“This is great news for Rolls-Royce and for the country as a whole with the creation of more UK jobs and an opportunity to showcase British innovation and expertise on the world stage,” Rolls-Royce Submarines president Steve Carlier said.

Defence Teaming Centre chief executive officer Audra McCarthy said her peak defence industry group was briefed about local business involvement in the project by Federal Government ministers and the Premier, before he caught a flight to the United Kingdom last week.

Since then, Malinauskas has announced the State Government is partnering with the University of South Australia, defence industry and the Australian Industry Group to fast-track a university degree apprenticeship pilot program for the defence sector – based on a UK model.

He also announced the UK’s lead university in the UK’s Nuclear Technology Education Consortium – the University of Manchester – has partnered with Flinders University to deliver a nuclear masters program and doctoral level research training.

McCarthy said she has since briefed DTC members about potential pathways to join a global nuclear submarine building industry and was hopeful about opportunities, but it was likely those opportunities “aren’t coming for another 10 years”.

She said already there were concerns about existing STEM university places being filled and also reservations about how soon promised jobs will be happening in SA.

“The public are being given a perception about these jobs and opportunities,” McCarthy said. “Whilst it’s true many jobs will be created, we need to ensure the public and industry realise that manufacturing jobs and opportunities are years and year away.”

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