Nuclear-powered submarines for Australia? Maybe not so fast.

But British submarines got off its production line relatively slowly, and often late. British submarine maker BAE Systems is also busy building Dreadnought submarines to carry the country’s nuclear deterrent.

“The reserve capacity is very limited,” wrote Trevor Taylor, an academic researcher in defense management at the Royal United Services Institute, a research institute in an email. “The UK cannot afford to delay its Dreadnought program in order to divert efforts to Australia.”

Adding to the complications, Britain has phased out the PWR2 reactor that powers the Astute, after officials agreed the model “would not be acceptable in the future,” an audit report said in 2018. The Astute is not designed to adapt to the next. generation reactor, and this issue could make it difficult to restart construction of the submarine for Australia, Taylor and other experts said.

The British successor to the Astute is still on the drawing board; the government said last month it would devote three years to design work for it. A naval official at the UK Department of Defense said the planned new submarine could fit well into Australia’s schedule. Several experts were less sure.

“Waiting for the next-generation British or American attack submarine would mean an increased capacity gap,” for Australia, Taylor wrote in an assessment.

The challenge does not end with the construction of the submarines. Safeguards aimed at protecting seafarers and populations, and meeting non-proliferation obligations, will require a strong build-up of Australian nuclear safety expertise.

Residents of parts of Barrow-in-Furness, the town of 67,000 people home to Britain’s submarine construction shipyard, are given iodine tablets as a precaution against possible leaks during reactor tests . The Osborne shipyard in South Australia, where Morrison wants to build the nuclear submarines, sits on the edge of Adelaide, a city of 1.4 million people.

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