The US and UK are set to provide Australia with the technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, as part of the first initiative under the new trilateral security partnership AUKUS.
- A nuclear-powered submarine, as the name suggests, is powered by a nuclear reactor but it is not a nuclear weapon.
- Every nuclear-powered submarine draws from its own miniature nuclear reactor onboard, which is typically fuelled with uranium.
- For such a reactor to work, uranium has to be ‘enriched’ to contain 50 per cent of a key isotope, uranium-235.
- Natural uranium consists of approximately 99.3 per cent of the isotope uranium-238 and only 0.7 per cent of uranium-235. The process of enrichment can be carried out through gaseous diffusion, gas centrifuges or laser isotope separation.
- Nuclear-powered submarines do not have the same limitations that face conventional submarines on weapons storage, speed and endurance. They can stay completely submerged for many months, limiting the opportunities for detection by adversaries.
- Only six nations own and operate these submarines currently: China, France, India, Russia, the UK and the US.