The Port Adelaide and Outer Harbour docks are set to be the building spot for at least eight nuclear-powered submarines under the terms of the new “AUKUS” trilateral security pact, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in September.
But the controversial deal, which saw Australia scrap its $90 billion contract with France to build 12 diesel-powered boats, drew criticism from anti-nuclear activists and local residents concerned about the prospect of nuclear reactors in their suburbs.
No nuclear-powered warship has ever visited Port Adelaide or Outer Harbour.
Patrick, a former submariner and critic of the new subs deal, on September 21 filed a Freedom of Information request to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) for “any documents that go to the planning or prospects of a nuclear vessel visiting Port Adelaide or Outer Harbour”.
ARPANSA is responsible for providing safety assessment to the Visiting Ships Panel (Nuclear) – an interdepartmental committee overseeing arrangements for visiting nuclear ships and associated safety requirement.
Following a search from ARPANSA’s senior scientist, the agency determined that such a planning or safety document “does not exist”.
“The ARPANSA Senior Scientist, who holds the responsibility for searching ARPANSA records of documents that go to the planning or prospects of a nuclear vessel, … has instructed me that ARPANSA, at this point in time, does not have a document specifically relating to the terms of your request,” ARPANSA FOI Officer John Templeton wrote to Patrick on Thursday.
A spokesperson for the agency confirmed to InDaily it has not been asked by the Defence Department to undertake a safety assessment or planning study of the site.
Patrick said the revelation shows that the Morrison’s Government’s nuclear submarines program is “a huge exercise in filling in the blanks”.
“One might have thought that some work would have been undertaken to consider Adelaide’s suitability for at least nuclear powered warship visits before the Prime Minister’s big announcement last month,” Patrick said.
“That is a task that ARPANSA undertakes on a regular basis in relation to other locations including HMAS Stirling, Fremantle, Darwin and Brisbane.
“While the safety assessments required for nuclear submarine construction and long-term berthing facilities would be a very complex undertaking, a port visit safety assessment of Port Adelaide and Outer Harbour would have been minimum due diligence before the Prime Minister promised his nuclear subs would be built in Adelaide.”
Patrick said the lack of safety assessment means Adelaide’s docks “could not currently host even a single-day visit by any nuclear powered submarine”.
“As is so often the case, Scott Morrison’s Government hasn’t done the basic preliminaries. It’s big on announcements, but fails conspicuously on due diligence and competent project management,” he said.
ARPANSA CEO Carl-Magnus Larsson told a parliamentary last week that the agency was briefed on the plan to shift from diesel to nuclear submarines around the beginning of July.
A spokesperson for ARPANSA said the agency “has not been asked to undertake a safety assessment and/or planning study on docking nuclear submarines in Port Adelaide or Outer Harbour”.
“ARPANSA will only undertake a radiological port assessment if Defence (Navy) determines that a nuclear-powered vessel can visit a specified port,” the spokesperson said.
“Neither Adelaide nor Outer Harbor have been subject to a visit of a nuclear-powered vessel.”
InDaily contacted the Department of Defence for comment.
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