The Coalition's defense spokesman dismissed the suggestions of his colleagues that Australia should think about acquiring nuclear submarines in replacement of the Collins-class subs.
Senator David Johnston responded to reports about the senior coalition MPs claim that buying or leasing Virginia-class attack submarines, armed with conventional weapons including cruise missiles, would be backed-up by the Obama administration.
"Nuclear submarines are not coalition policy and they are not on the table for us to be examining," Johnston told ABC Radio on Monday. "Australia did not have the capacity to build and operate its own nuclear reactors and would have to rely on allies, including the United States or United Kingdom. We are in no position to make assumptions that we would have access to such technology," Johnston added.
Meanwhile, former Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon declared that Labor is committing a mistake if it ruled out fast attack nuclear submarines. "We should have a discussion about every option which might deliver the capability we need in a timely manner," Fitzgibbon told The Australian Financial Review.
Peter Reith, another former Howard government Defense Minister also stated that having nuclear submarines were an option. "Nuclear submarines are top-quality kit so let's find out whether we can afford them, how much they cost to run, manning issues and the like," Reith told the AFR. "The Americans opened the door some months ago and for financial and strategic reasons we should at least examine the option," Reith further added.
On the other hand, US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich affirmed that the proposal was one to contemplate about yet so unlikely to be considered as a serious policy. This week, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in Perth for defense talks at the Australia-US Ministerial (AUSMIN) consultations.