Watchdog promises to keep a close eye on the deal for nuclear submarines.

The head of the world’s nuclear regulatory agency vowed on Wednesday to be “very demanding” in overseeing the transfer of nuclear-powered submarines from the United States to Australia, amid complaints that the US move could clear the way for bad actors to escape nuclear supervision in the future.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, spoke to reporters during a visit to Washington. Grossi also met with senior National Security Council officials to discuss issues such as the recently announced US-Australia-UK deal on nuclear-powered submarines.

President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom announced Monday in San Diego that Australia would buy nuclear-powered attack submarines from the US to modernize its fleet amid growing concerns about China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. This would be the first transfer of nuclear-powered submarines from a nuclear-weapon State to a non-nuclear State.

Nuclear-powered submarines move quieter and longer than conventionally powered submarines. While strengthening the military position of the United States and its allies in the region, the agreement has raised concerns that it is the first in decades of nuclear nonproliferation agreements to exploit a loophole that allows restricted use of nuclear material outside of established safeguards.

Critics express concern that bad actors could use this loophole as a cover, pointing to the US-Australia deal to divert nuclear material to a weapons program as a precedent.

China on Wednesday renewed its objections to the deal, accusing the three countries of “coercing” the IAEA into approving it. All IAEA member states should work to find a solution to “safeguards issues” and “maintain international peace and security,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing.

Grossi denied China’s accusation. «Nobody coerces me. Nobody coerces the IAEA », he declared to the journalists. AUKUS – the name used by the three-country grouping of the US, Australia, and the UK – had “committed to the highest level of transparency” in the deal.

“We are going to be very demanding with what they plan to do,” Grossi said. “So the process starts now.”

The architects of the nuclear nonproliferation agreements left a loophole for using nuclear material for non-explosive military purposes, thinking of nuclear naval propulsion. Before removing nuclear material from loophole safeguards, States must reach a separate agreement with the IAEA.