Scott Morrison’s nuclear option for future Australian submarines is another budget disaster in the making, according to federal parliament’s only former submariner.

“We can’t afford to allow this bathtub admiral’s nuclear fantasy to go any further,” Independent senator Rex Patrick said on Tuesday.

The South Australian senator wants hydrogen fuel-cell submarines to be considered instead of the program he says will ruin Australia’s sovereign capability and deal a huge blow to his state’s defence industrial base.

New technology has allowed hydrogen fuel-cell powered submarines to become a viable non-nuclear option for endurance and silence, with some navies already operating or building with the new propulsion systems.

The senator said Australia needs a new submarine capability in the water in 2026, not 2040, and it should be built in Adelaide not contracted to foreign shipyards.

“I get that nuclear submarines are very capable. As a former submariner and having spent time at sea on the nuclear USS Santa Fe, I get it more than any other member of the federal parliament,” he said.

“But I also understand the capabilities of modern hydrogen fuel-cell submarines.”

He recommends a $20 billion spend on 20 highly capable submarines, rather than an estimated $171 billion on eight nuclear-powered vessels.

The previous $90 billion deal with a French company was scrapped last year in favour of nuclear-powered submarines as part of the AUKUS security pact, with a termination payment that could exceed $5.5 billion.

The Morrison government has already committed to building a new nuclear submarine base on Australia’s east coast, with the location to be announced after the election.

Defence is studying what new infrastructure would be needed on the west coast to support American and British nuclear submarines as part of the AUKUS pact.

The coalition has also announced a $381 million upgrade to the existing Collins class submarines.

Senator Patrick said it was wrong to claim conventional submarines would not survive the modern operational environment, pointing to the fleets of Germany, Spain, Turkey, Greece, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore.

“It doesn’t matter how good the pros of a nuclear submarine are – if it arrives too late, costs too much and undermines sovereign capability then it’s the wrong solution,” he said.

Extracted in full from: Call to dump nuclear, go hydrogen for subs (