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UN nuclear watchdog warns 'a lot of work to do' before AUKUS submarine deal approval

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi is examining Australia's plans to acquire nuclear submarines.

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has warned there is a lot of technical work to be done before Australia's AUKUS submarine plans can be approved.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Rafael Grossi met Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Monday to discuss details of Australia's proposal to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. 

Following the talks, Mr Grossi said he was encouraged to hear Senator Wong reaffirm Australia's determination to adhere to its nuclear non-proliferation commitments.

"We had a long conversation, and I was reassured by her commitment to make sure that Australia is unfailing in its commitment to non-proliferation," Mr Grossi said.

"We must ensure that whatever is done in this area will not — will never — run counter to the basic principal of preventing nuclear weapons proliferation."

In September, the former Morrison government unveiled the AUKUS partnership to harness American and British technology for a nuclear submarine fleet to replace Australia's ageing Collins Class fleet.

Australia's deal to replace the Collins class fleet has been controversial. (ABC News: Dave Weber)

Mr Grossi says it's "no secret" that China and Russia have launched a furious diplomatic effort with his agency to push back against the AUKUS proposal. 

Earlier this year, the ABC revealed the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade was boosting specialised diplomatic teams in both Canberra and Vienna — where the IAEA is headquartered — in part to push back against a "disinformation" campaign from Moscow and Beijing.

On Tuesday, the IAEA director-general will hold talks with officials in Canberra as his agency continues to scrutinise the controversial AUKUS arrangements.

"At the technical level we have a lot of work to do, we have to roll up our sleeves and do it," Mr Grossi has told the ABC. 

The nuclear chief says monitoring the highly enriched uranium in an Australian nuclear-powered submarine while deployed offshore for months at a time will be a difficult task, but he believes agreement to allow it can be reached.

Director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi met with Penny Wong in Adelaide. (Supplied: DFAT)

"One has to make sure that the system is well-designed, it's quite a complex technical, legal, exercise and as you were saying, people will be looking at this because it will be precedent-setting," he said.

In a statement, Senator Wong said "the work of the IAEA to contribute to global peace and security has never been more important, or more urgent.

"I reiterated Australia's total commitment to our obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty.

"I reaffirmed Australia's commitment to working transparently and openly with the IAEA to ensure our acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines sets the highest possible non-proliferation standards."

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