Sep 18, 2022 07:09 UTC
  • China clashes with AUKUS countries at IAEA

China has clashed with the countries in the so-called AUKUS alliance at the UN nuclear watchdog over their plan to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

The alliance, which consists of the US, the UK and Australia, last year announced Australia plans to acquire at least eight nuclear submarines.

Currently, no party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) other than the five countries the treaty recognizes as weapons states - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - has nuclear submarines. The vessels can stay underwater for longer than conventional ones and are harder to detect.

“The AUKUS partnership involves the illegal transfer of nuclear weapon materials, making it essentially an act of nuclear proliferation,” China said in a position paper sent to IAEA member states during this week’s quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.

International Atomic Energy Agency's Chief Rafael Grossi has said the submarines will be fueled by "very highly enriched uranium", suggesting it could be weapons-grade or close to it.

Australia, however, said that it would be unable and unwilling to use the fuel in its submarines to make nuclear weapons since the vessels will have “welded power units” containing nuclear material that would need chemical processing for use in an atom bomb, and that Canberra does not have or want facilities that can do that.

The AUKUS countries and the IAEA say the NPT allows so-called marine nuclear propulsion as long as necessary arrangements are made with the IAEA.

China, however, disagrees since nuclear material will be transferred to Australia rather than being produced by it.

Beijing argues that the IAEA is overstepping its mandate and wants an unspecified "inter-governmental" process to examine the issue at the IAEA instead of leaving it to the agency.

In its seven-page position paper, China said AUKUS countries were seeking to take the IAEA “hostage” so it could “whitewash” nuclear proliferation.

It is hard to inspect nuclear submarines, as when they are at sea their fuel is beyond the reach of the agency’s inspectors, who are supposed to keep track of all nuclear material.