Australia and China enter into Uranium deal

Monday, April 3, 2006

A piece of unprocessed uranium ore.

China has entered into a "nuclear safeguards agreement" which will allow it to purchase uranium from Australia. Under the conditions of the agreement, China must not use Australian uranium for military purposes.

The agreement was signed by Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing in the presence of their leaders Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Australia will not allow uranium to be exported to any country which has not entered into a nuclear safeguards agreement. A requirement of this agreement is that the country wishing to purchase uranium must also be a signatory to the UN's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Alexander Downer stated that China needs the uranium for its nuclear energy program. He said "Given China's high projected growth in electricity demand over the coming years, there are clear environmental benefits in diversifying from fossil fuels to low greenhouse-emission technologies such as nuclear power."

China is expected to build between 40 to 50 nuclear plants over the next 20 years.

Ian Macfarlane, Austalia's Resource Minister said that exports should begin within four years and that the agreement was only the beginning of the export process. He told ABC Radio "The signing of this agreement is really only the start of the process,

We need to move forward, there needs to be commercial negotiations between companies in Australia that are producing uranium and companies in China that wish to purchase it" he said.

It is believed that Australia, which holds 40 percent of the world's uranium, may need to increase production. At present, Australia produces 10,000 tonnes per year. It is expected that China will require 20,000 tonnes a year from Australia.

"Uranium will only be sold by contract to utilities, it cannot be used for military purposes, China will also be subject to international atomic energy safeguards and that means inspections," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has stated and continued "Thirdly, there will be a system that will track Australian nuclear material."

Kevin Rudd, Australian Opposition's foreign affairs spokesman said that he supported the agreement. Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd supports the deal.

"If we have with China effective bilateral safeguards arrangements then there should be no impediment," he said.

Professor Ian Lowe from the Australian Conservation Foundation said in response to the deal that "This is no time to be increasing the amount of fissile material in the world."

Christine Milne has commented "Make no mistake — selling Australian uranium to China will make the world less safe."