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New agency and new regulator to deliver Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine program

The Australian Government will establish a new agency and a new regulator as part of its commitment to delivering Australia’s conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.

The Australian Submarine Agency (ASA) will be established by Executive Order on 1 July this year and will be responsible and accountable for the management and oversight of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine program.

The Government will also establish a new independent statutory regulator, the Australian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Safety Regulator.

The new Regulator will have the functions and powers necessary to regulate the unique circumstances associated with nuclear safety and radiological protection across the lifecycle of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine enterprise. This includes associated infrastructure and facilities.

The Regulator will be independent of the Australian Defence Force’s chain of command and directions from the Department of Defence. This will be a fundamental part of a system of regulation and resembles that established by the United States Government at the urging of the late Admiral Hyman Rickover who is credited with creating the nuclear-powered US Navy.

Under the US Navy system, regulation and oversight of nuclear reactors is the responsibility of a four-star Admiral who sits outside the S Navy’s chain of command, reports directly to the US President and has the authority to over-ride the head of the US Navy where reactor safety is concerned. Australia’s challenge is to provide to both the US and UK governments that it has the knowledge, expertise and regulatory framework to build, operate and maintain nuclear-powered submarines safely – this will be a condition of acquiring, first, a fleet of ex-US Navy Virginia-class submarines and then building jointly with the UK the SSN-AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine with will equip both countries’ navies.

The new Regulator will work with existing Australian regulators such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANZA) to support the safety of the RAN’s submariners, Australian and international communities, and the environment.

Work to establish the regulatory framework and delivery pathway for Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines is already under way, says Defence, and remains a key priority for the Government, in line with the recommendations of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR).

Both the ASA and the Regulator will be non-corporate Commonwealth entities within the Defence portfolio and report directly to the Minister for Defence.

“The establishment of the Australian Submarine Agency and the Australian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Safety Regulator are critical elements of delivering this game-changing capability and will ensure the safe and successful implementation of the pathway for Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines,” said Minister for Defence Richard Marles.

“The ASA will be responsible and accountable for delivering the ambitious program to acquire Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines.

“A specialised and dedicated Regulator – which will be independent of Defence and the Australian Defence Force – will ensure we have the highest standards of nuclear safety and radiological protection across the lifecycle of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines.”

In leading the delivery of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines, the ASA will be responsible for cradle-to-grave management, including:

  • acquisition
  • delivery
  • construction
  • technical governance
  • sustainment
  • disposal

The ASA will also enable the necessary policy, legal, non-proliferation, workforce, security and safety arrangements.

The Royal Australian Navy, led by the Chief of Navy, will continue to be responsible for training submariners and operating Australia’s submarines.

The Nuclear-Powered Submarine Taskforce, which currently operates as part of Defence, will transition to the ASA when it is formally stood up. The Task Force is currently headed by Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead AO. The new Agency will be headed by a Director General, whose appointment will be announced by the Government at the appropriate time, Marles said in a statement.

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