City of Cockburn residents are continuing to voice their concerns against AUKUS, campaigning for a ‘nuke-free Cockburn Sound.’
Stop AUKUS WA, a campaign group within the Australian Anti-AUKUS Coalition, fights to stop the acquisition and stationing of nuclear-powered submarines in Western Australia.
‘We call on the Australian government to divert the $100’s of billions earmarked for military spending on AUKUS and nuclear submarines and to spend it on urgent social and economic needs … including urgently dealing with the climate crisis,’ the ACCC’s website reads.
‘No more lies, no more wars, no war on China … no nuclear subs which can risk our health and environment.’
AUKUS, the defence alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and United States, was developed in 2021 to increase Western security in the Indo-Pacific region by building nuclear-propelled submarines.
The Federal Government is set to invest $8 billion into expanding HMAS Stirling, a naval base on Garden Island, located in the inlet of Cockburn Sound.
It is predicted by 2030 HMAS Stirling will house up to five nuclear-powered Virginia Class submarines, subject to Congress approval.
Stop AUKUS WA campaigner Dr Chris Johansen says AUKUS has become ‘a local issue,’ impacting the Cockburn community.
“If you are going to have all this radioactivity and highly enriched uranium on your doorstep in Cockburn, Kwinana and so on, then this is a local issue,” he says.
The Leeming resident says until Australia purchases their owned nuclear-powered submarines, US and UK owned vessels will move in and out of Cockburn Sound, posing a threat to local residents.
“There are so many things that can go wrong within this council area of Cockburn and the probability of that is multiplied if you have ships continually coming and going,” he says.
“The possibility of an accident; of a guy turning the cooling system of a nuclear reactor … turning the valve the wrong way, all these probabilities of an accident go up.”
“Whether it is a conventional warhead or nuclear warhead, people living in Rocky [Rockingham] and Kwinana and Cockburn are going to be shaken up if there is any conflict.”
The submarine’s reactors will use highly enriched uranium which create high levels of waste lasting thousands of years.
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s nuclear policy analyst Dave Sweeney believes the waste is a ‘direct threat’ on the West Australian community and believes ‘the safest option is to not have them [nuclear-powered submarines].’
“If something goes wrong then there would be an uncontrolled release of high-level radiation,” he says.
Sweeney has spent 30 years ‘tracking and engaging’ in nuclear politics and says the radioactive material has potential to ‘rapidly overheat, self-combust and explode,’ posing as a ‘very significant human health threat.’
“There is a risk which you are presenting to Perth and Freo which has the potential – should a worst-case scenario happen – to be long term, profoundly damaging and alter the whole way of life,” he says.
WA Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John says AUKUS is a ‘multi-level threat,’ bringing ‘unimaginable’ ecological complications to the West Australian coastline.
“A nuclear accident could affect millions and generations, and Australia does not have the ability to manage the technology in an almost certain case if something eventually goes wrong,” he says.
“West Australians have to deal with the substantially increased risk of a nuclear accident aboard one of the many nuclear submarines rotating through HMAS Stirling.”
Steele-John says since the AUKUS deal was made his office has been ‘inundated’ with local residents, ‘furious’ with the Albanese government.
“I’ve heard from people in Fremantle and Rockingham terrified about what this means for their communities and how they can get active to stop it,” he says.
“We are seeing real grassroots powered movements being built to get political change and replace MPs that want to see their communities nuclearized.”
Stop AUKUS WA campaigner Chris Johansen believes the Labor government is ‘courting danger’ by signing the AUKUS pact.
“Okay the basic functions is to protect the country from being invaded by some other country,” he says.
“But if there is concern about it, what you do is you talk to people and negotiate what the problem is so you don’t build up to a situation where you are pointing weapons to each other.”