The proposal that Australia should acquire nuclear-powered submarines raises a host of problems so inordinately tricky that their solutions are bound to be incomplete and highly fluid. 'Wicked' problems such as these generate messy solutions, and their resolution—insofar as complete resolution is possible—requires the understanding of relationships between intersecting issues.

This paper endeavours to identify the principal factors that need to be identified and addressed if Australia is to pursue the nuclear propulsion option for its next generation submarines. Australia has the capacity to manage these issues, even if it cannot resolve them absolutely. And as a wealthy country, we can certainly afford nuclear-propelled submarines.

Regardless, cost is not the principal concern. The most important consideration is ensuring that the solutions adopted do not create unintended consequences, and that opportunity costs (the things we do without if we are to have the things we want) are not counter-productive.

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