Australian commanders to have complete control over nuclear-powered submarines and reactors
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Australian Navy commanders will have full operational control over their submarines and the powerful nuclear reactors onboard, despite the potential presence of US or UK engineers. 
Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, chief of the AUKUS submarine taskforce, has rejected criticisms that the nuclear propulsion program, based on US technology, would undermine Australian sovereignty. 
"When we take command of our first boat, we will have sovereign capability," he told 7.30's Sarah Ferguson in an exclusive interview. 
Details of extensive plans to build a fleet of eight boats powered with weapons-grade uranium will be revealed next month. 
Vice Admiral Mead was asked what would happen onboard in the event of any dispute over the nuclear reactor, including following an accident, between a US or UK engineer and the boat's Australian commander.
"We would expect anyone, be it a foreign engineer or an Australian engineer, to provide advice," he said. 
But the commanding officer of that submarine, the Australian, would have "command and control over the reactor, over the submarine – unequivocal". 
The defining feature of the submarine deal is that the highly enriched uranium reactors that power the boats will be supplied by either the US or UK, and "welded shut".
The use of weapons-grade fuel means the reactors do not need to be opened for refuelling over the 30-plus-year life of the boat. Reactors that run on low-enriched uranium, like those used by the French and Chinese navies, do require refuelling. 
This also means Australia will not need to manufacture nuclear fuel – one of the commitments the country has made to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Vice Admiral Mead said Australia would, however, be sending people to US "design facilities" so we would understand "every element of detail of that reactor". 
Asked if Australia is considering building its own nuclear reactors in the future, Vice Admiral Mead said: "We are not envisioning that at the moment, we haven't gone into that at the moment." 
The senior Navy official has spoken previously about the need for the AUKUS program to have public support. 
Asked what would happen to an Australian nuclear-propelled submarine that was hit by a missile, Vice Admiral Mead said he could not reveal the technical details but that "nuclear-powered submarines are designed for exacting standards".
He also said that submariners receive only minimal doses of radiation onboard – less than an ordinary person walking the streets of a capital city.
Addressing the scale of the program, Vice Admiral Mead said if Australia wanted to begin construction of new boats in Adelaide "towards the end of this decade" the government would need to quickly finalise the construction of a revamped shipyard. 
He also described the extraordinary staffing requirements of the project, requiring nuclear physicists, chemists and engineers, as well as specialist tradesmen. 
One of the biggest questions around AUKUS is whether Australia would be left without a functioning submarine force before the new boats are launched, as the ageing Collins fleet approaches retirement.
Vice Admiral Mead said unequivocally there would be no gap, but would not be drawn on the Navy's specific plans.
The UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, recently suggested a new submarine design the three countries could share was under consideration. 
Asked whether that strategy would further delay the delivery of new submarines, Vice Admiral Mead reaffirmed there would be no gap in Australia's capability. 
Vice Admiral Mead said rapid changes in the Indo Pacific had sharpened strategic competition.
"We've also seen in recent years a significant modernisation in the Chinese military, particularly the Navy," he said.
Australia's current fleet of Collins class submarines run on diesel-electric engines that are extremely quiet when running off the battery. 
Nuclear submarines have massive range and the stealth advantage of not needing to resurface, but they do have reactor components that can't be easily switched off to "go quiet". 
The pros and cons of nuclear and conventional submarines have led defence analysts to suggest a new generation of diesel submarines should be considered as well, particularly to operate closer to the Australian coastline – while the nuclear boats could be prioritised for operations further away from the mainland.
But Vice Admiral Mead said the nuclear submarines would be a good option in both theatres.
"Nuclear-powered submarines provide a capability to deploy away from the home shore, or to deploy close to home shore," he said. 
Pressed on whether conventional submarines would be quieter for closer operations, Vice Admiral Mead said under some circumstances nuclear submarines could be "just as quiet". 
"It's often more to do with the age and the technology of the submarine that we are dealing with," he said.
Vice Admiral Mead said the purpose of nuclear-powered submarines was to "put the greatest question of doubt in the enemy's mind" and "if necessary, respond with massive firepower". 
This type of game-changing capability, he said, would change Australia's "strategic personality". 
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