Campaign for a nuclear free Cockburn Sound launched

March 15, 2023
The launch of Nuke Free Cockburn Sound campaign. Photo: Fremantle Shipping News

Stop AUKUS Western Australia launched its Nuke Free Cockburn Sound campaign on March 15, the day after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal in San Diego in the United States.

The campaign is aimed at raising community awareness of the dangers posed by the AUKUS announcement and to petition four local governments facing Cockburn Sound (Fremantle, Cockburn, Kwinana and Rockingham) to come out against it.

Garden Island lies 2–20 kilometres from these densely populated areas. Cockburn Sound is a prime ecosystem and important to the local fishing industry.

The AUKUS submarine deal includes more visits by US Virginia class nuclear-propelled submarines (SSNs) to HMAS Stirling, Garden Island, starting this year and British nuclear subs from 2026.

The government has committed $8 billion to ready HMAS Stirling for Submarine Rotational Force West (SRF-West) involving four US Virginia and one British UK Astute SSN, starting in 2027.

WA will then also be home to the three to five nuclear-powered Virginia submarines, to be progressively purchased pending US Congress approval, to stem the “capability gap” from the early 2030s.

Meanwhile, Adelaide will host new shipbuilding facilities to build eight new SSN-AUKUS submarines, based on a British design, but with US weapons systems and technology.

The government calculates the total cost will be $368 billion over 30 years.

Dr Chris Johansen, Cockburn resident and member of Stop AUKUS WA, said the AUKUS deal “means increasingly frequent visits of nuclear powered, and possibly armed, submarines to Cockburn Sound”.

“Credible safety measures for nuclear accidents are not in place,” he said.

“Even more ominously, ramping up of hostilities with China makes the Garden Island facility and surrounds a prime target for attack, along with US facilities at Pine Gap and Darwin.

“We have an obligation to inform the local population of the dangers this announcement brings.”

He said the promised billions is being misspent when housing, health care and aged care are under pressure.

“It seems inappropriate to be giving priority to committing multi-billion dollar sums to preserving US hegemony,” Johansen said.

“From a military perspective, nuclear submarines are not suited to protecting Australia’s coastline, but are meant for distant deployment in global conflicts.

“In any case, the evolution of underwater drone technology is likely to render the planned submarines obsolete before they are built.”

Adrian Glamorgan, Fremantle resident and Secretary of the Friends World Committee (Quakers) Asia Pacific, said it is time to honour the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and “rethink security”.

“We need shared security in our region,” Glamorgan said, adding that it comes from “growing diplomacy, increasing foreign aid in our region, creating educational opportunities, and building understanding between nations”.

Jo Vallentine, peace and nuclear disarmament activist and former senator, added her support to the campaign.

“AUKUS is very risky for Australia … It makes no sense to squander billions of taxpayer dollars on boats that would not defend Australia, but which would increase tensions in our region. Our Pacific neighbours certainly don’t want Australia to go nuclear.”

Vallentine said any nuclear activity can lead to radioactive contamination in the event of an accident. “Our port safety plans are woefully inadequate to deal with such a problem.”

Sam Wainwright, member of Walyalup Climate Action and Stop AUKUS WA, said: “Out of control military spending and the push to confront China represent a desperate threat to our security and wellbeing. We must fight climate change, not war.

He said the government must urgently sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and “adopt an independent foreign policy based on peace and justice”.

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