AUKUS Project, These Are Three Candidate Locations for the Australian Nuclear Submarine Base

AUKUS Project, These Are Three Candidate Locations for the Australian Nuclear Submarine Base

The project to procure the Virginia class and AUKUS class nuclear-powered submarines was agreed upon by Australian, United States and British officials in San Diego on March 13, 2023. 

Although Australia has to wait until 2030, the US and Britain have agreed to place a number of their nuclear submarines in 2027. change in Australia. And welcoming the era of nuclear submarines, the question then is, where will Australia's nuclear submarines be placed in the future?

Quoted from (19/3/2023), Port Kembla (69 km from Sydney) in the State of New South Wales was confirmed as the most likely option as a home base for Australia's first nuclear submarine base, but it was still far from a deal.

Apart from Port Kembla which is south of Wollongong, the Australian Department of Defense is also considering nuclear submarine bases in Brisbane (Queensland) and Newcastle (New South Wales/NSW).

The three sites are said to have common features that make them ideal and strong candidates for deployment as a base for nuclear submarines. There are at least three important points to consider in selecting a location for a nuclear submarine base, namely the availability of a skilled workforce, support for nuclear facilities and direct access to deep waters.

  • Availability of Skilled Workforce

Dr Paul Di Pietro, lead of defense strategy at the University of Wollongong, said all candidates had access to suitable manpower. Up to 5,000 workers will be needed at the base.

"All three [locations] have access to a very strong industrial base, they have access to a large population with excellent universities," he said. Port Kembla has Garden Island nearby, as well as the proximity of the naval bases HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell, meaning there is already a very close capability to Wollongong.

AUKUS Project

Newcastle Harbor is also positioned close to a defense facility, the Williamtown Air Force base. Its proximity to airbases offers better protection for submarines.

  • Nuclear Facility Support

Port Kembla is also located close to Australia's only nuclear reactor, which is run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) in Lucas Heights. Pietro said having access to the ANSTO workforce would likely be a consideration for the government.

"Having a reactor nearby is not necessary as the submarine is fully loaded and the nuclear reactor is sealed on top, but having expertise at ANSTO would be a great help," he said.

  • Direct Access to Deep Waters

Despite the similar population profile of the three sites, there are significant differences when considering their geographic suitability. Outer Harbor Port Kembla has the easiest access to deep water security. It offers the ability to dive very quickly.”

Prioritizing stealth capabilities, one of the requirements is that the submarine must move from the dock and dive as fast as possible. And being able to reach deep water quickly was, no doubt, a strategic advantage.

As for Brisbane, it is known for its naval presence in its port, with (Lanal) HMAS Moreton providing administrative and logistical support to visiting naval vessels. However, University of Queensland civil engineer Dr Alistair Grinham said one of the biggest problems at the Brisbane port was the risk of flooding and sediment buildup which could damage submarines.

So what about Newcastle? Building a submarine base at the Port of Newcastle will face its own challenges, as 50 percent of the port's assets are owned by Chinese companies. When the NSW government privatized it in 2014 for US$1.75 billion, China Merchants Port Holdings Company bought a 50 per cent stake.

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