Australia will not export uranium to India

Friday, March 3, 2006

The Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, has confirmed that Australia will not export uranium to India while it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The confirmation was prompted by a recently announced agreement between India and the United States involving the sale of civilian nuclear technology.

Uranium Ore

"Well our policy has developed over many years, going right back to the time of the Fraser Government actually, our policy has been that we would only export uranium to countries that are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Mr. Downer said in an interview on today's AM radio programme.

Mr. Downer also said that the Australian government was disappointed when India and Pakistan developed nuclear weapons, but supports the new United States deal with India as an attempt to engage with India and "open up their civilian nuclear industry to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors."

"We've considered very carefully over the last few months the American proposal for this agreement that President Bush has signed with the Indians, and our view about it is that it's a good step forward in what's been a difficult situation," Mr. Downer said.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) supported the government's stance on exporting uranium to non-NPT countries. "Any future agreement to export to India must be dependent on India becoming a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the negotiation of a bi-lateral agreement ensuring that Australian uranium is only used for peaceful purposes," they said in a press release.

US-India agreement

The deal between the two countries involves the US supplying civilian nuclear technology to India, in exchange for money and a promise to open some reactors for inspection. India has said it will reclassify 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors as being for power generation only, which will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAFA) to inspect them.

In a press briefing, National Security Advisor Steve Hadly said that the agreement would bring India "into the international non-proliferation mainstream", including "placing its civilian nuclear facilities and programs under IAEA safeguards, and also harmonizing its export control lists with those of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime." The deal stops short of normalising India's nuclear status; however it is not clear that this could occur without a complete renegotiation of the NPT, or an abandonment of nuclear weapons by India.

The director of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, called India "an important partner in the non-proliferation regime".

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

The NPT permits 5 states to own nuclear weapons: France (signed 1992), the People's Republic of China (1992), the Soviet Union (1968; obligations and rights assumed by Russia), the United Kingdom (1968), and the United States (1968). All other signatories have agreed that they will not seek nuclear weapons technology. 187 sovereign nations are currently signed on to the NPT; however India, Pakistan, and Israel have not. India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons, and Israel is suspected of possession of nuclear weapons.

Uranium exports

Australia has 30% of the world's available uranium. According to the Uranium Information Centre, from 2000 to 2005 Australia exported 46,600 tonnes of uranium, to the value of over AU$2.1 billion. Australia currently exports to the USA, Japan, South Korea, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Finland. Exports are for electricity generation only, in accordance with the NPT.