There is a bit of bureaucratic and diplomatic noise coming from South Africa.
The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) has denied the Russian nuclear cruiser Pyotr Veliky entry into Cape Town next week for not meeting certain requirements.The article goes on to note the public announcement was made on December 12th, thus making January 12th the allowance date due to the 30 day public advisory notice mandated by law. The article also notes there were some other documents missing from the application.
The regulatory body had received an application from the South African Navy on December 5 for a Nuclear Vessel License for the nuclear-powered vessel to visit Cape Town harbor from January 9 to 15.
However, there appeared to be some confusion as the advert appearing in local newspapers last week had the dates as January 12 to 17.
The law requires that the applicant advertise in local newspapers that it had applied for a license for a nuclear vessel to visit Cape Town. The public thereafter has 30 days to comment.
This isn't the last word though, the application can still be fixed, but it is still unclear what happens even if the application is corrected and approved whether the ship will be allowed to enter port before January 12th, due to the 30 day mandatory public notice.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) was the last nuclear ship to visit Cape Town, this past October actually, and was approved. I have a hard time believing the South African government is going to deny Russia access to the port after letting the US Navy dock an aircraft carrier just 4 months ago. It seems to me that would send an unnecessary signal to the Russian government.
While not a certainty, I think the most likely scenario here is that the paper pushers will get their act together and the Pyotr Veliky will be making port in Cape Town on January 12th. Keep in mind these are not trivial issues, and they are soon to be issues we have to deal with too.
Congress has changed the laws requiring virtually every future US Navy ship type to be nuclear powered, meaning diplomatic issues like this could become a lot more common in the future.
That would truly be stupid if you think about it, port visits by our big Navy ships is part of our soft power arsenal, seems to me the laws we develop for our Navy should support soft power, not make soft power a bureaucratic and diplomatic issue by adding nuclear power, something heavily regulated worldwide. After all, nothing says “We love the USA!” like a thousand sailors with wads of cash in hand making port in a foreign country and spending money.
If the future of the Navy is soft power, the considerations for a nuclear Navy need to be reviewed by Congress, as this is a huge political issue the Navy has found itself trapped in. The new administration will have to decide and will be the final word on these issues, absence of leadership in these types of discussions is not an acceptable option at the political level. Nuclear power, I'm all for it, but not in all cases.
This is a debate long overdue with the law already on the books.