The head of Naval Reactors invited defense industry executives here Wednesday to think about how they’d contribute to a three-way effort to transfer nuclear submarine propulsion to Australia — but he didn’t invite any contributions.

“We have 18 months to go and figure out how to deliver a platform, a capability, to Australia,” Adm. James Caldwell told attendees of the Naval Submarine League’s Annual Symposium in Arlington, Va. “I think initially this is going to be largely a government to government interaction and we will come out to industry and tell you when we need some ideas and inputs.” 

Caldwell spoke to the annual industry gathering, the first hosted in person since the COVID-19 pandemic, a little more than a month after Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. announced the AUKUS partnership to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines. That left a little less than 17 months for the three allies to set the contours of the deal and orient their individual bureaucracies and defense industries to support them.  

Australia’s ambassador to Washington has already said the nation will not develop a domestic nuclear industry to support the boats, to be built in the state of South Australia, and transferring existing U.S. or U.K. naval reactors will mean the Australian vessels will be fueled by highly enriched uranium. 

“[W]e’re going to look at the whole range for our courses of action … [s]ee what the U.K. can bring, what the U.S. can bring,” Caldwell said here. The dual-hatted admiral is also deputy administrator for Naval Reactors at the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Naval Reactors, meanwhile, has been “running on a fast pace” to “build the organization” internally to handle its part of the AUKUS program, Caldwell said. 

But even once Naval Reactors squares away its own AUKUS personnel, a technology transfer to Australia would require a substantial interagency lift by the U.S. government. Under federal law, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense each would have to okay a plan to transfer highly sensitive, proliferation-risky information, hardware and possibly nuclear materials to Australia, then get approval from the president. After that, Congress would have 60 days to weigh in.

BWX Technologies [BWXT] of Lynchburg, Va., has a virtual monopoly on most naval reactors technology in the U.S. The company builds reactor components and fabricates the Navy’s uranium fuel in commercial facilities spread out between Virginia and Tennessee. Earlier in November, on its latest quarterly earnings call, BWXT CEO Rex Geveden said AUKUS presented some “interesting possibilities” for the company.