Boosting nuclear law knowledge across the APS

International Policy and Strategies Faculty image - UN photo by Eskinder Debebe of 2 men sitting at the UN table with signs in front that read 'President' and 'Australia'
02 June 2023
DFAT’s Legal Division, in partnership with the Diplomatic Academy and the Australian National University College of Law, delivered the inaugural DFAT Nuclear Law Course for Australian government officials on 16 and 17 May 2023.

The course was a first-of-its-kind offering following the March announcement of the Optimal Pathway to acquire conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy pursuant to AUKUS (the enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States).  Over 100 officials from 15 agencies attended.

The course was convened by eminent nuclear law experts Laura Rockwood and Stephen G. Burns. Rockwood is the former Section Head for Non-Proliferation and Policy Making in the Office of Legal Affairs of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Burns is the former Commissioner and Chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The course examined international law issues relevant to Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, such as nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear security, nuclear safety, radioactive waste management, and nuclear liability.

Participation was for invited government agencies engaged in the delivery of the nuclear-powered submarines program under pillar one of AUKUS.

The course supports the Australian Government’s firm commitment to acquire the nuclear-powered submarines capability in accordance with Australia’s international law obligations and commitments, and in line with the highest standards of nuclear non-proliferation, safety and security.

“Australia has committed to delivering the Optimal Pathway in a way that is fully consistent with our obligations under international law, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Treaty of Rarotonga,” Adam McCarthy, DFAT’s Chief Legal Officer, said to participants.

“Our commitment to international law, and the rules-based order, is a critical element of this project,” he said.

Andrea Faulkner, Executive Director of the Diplomatic Academy, views the course as an important contribution towards Australia successfully delivering the first pillar of the AUKUS.

“This course is an excellent example of DFAT’s leadership on nuclear non-proliferation and international law within government, and our active contribution to the significant national uplift required to support the nuclear-powered submarines project in the decades ahead,” Ms Faulkner said.