Australia to export uranium to India?

Oct. 16, 2012 at 12:25 PM
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NEW DELHI, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said exports of uranium to India will figure prominently during her state visit to India this week.

Arriving in New Delhi Monday for her three-day visit, Gillard told reporters, "I formed the view as prime minister that it was appropriate for us to sell uranium to India, and that it had become an obstacle in our relationship that we were not."

Last November, Australia dropped its longstanding ban on selling uranium to countries outside the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Nuclear-armed India is not a signatory to the treaty.

"We know how to negotiate these agreements and we've done it in the past, and we've done it on the basis that Australian uranium is only used for peaceful purposes," Gillard said of Australia's newest prospective uranium customer.

Australia holds 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves and exports more than 7,000 tons a year.

While India's 20 nuclear plants currently have an installed capacity of 4,780 megawatts, the government aims to generate 20,000 megawatts of power from nuclear power by 2020.

Gillard said she could give no time line for Australian exports of uranium to India, acknowledging that any such agreements are "complex ones and they do take some time to negotiate."

John Carlson, the former head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation office believes it is unlikely that India would use Australian uranium for its military activities.

"They have an independent military program which is clearly sufficient for their needs," Carlson told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

But Carlson said that India needs to be responsible with the uranium it obtains.

"Now that India has taken the decision that it wants to import nuclear technology and nuclear material from around the world, it's clearly important for India to maintain security of supply for those materials. Therefore I think our starting assumption would be there would be no reason why they would violate agreements that would lead to a stoppage of supply."

Australia's Greens party has said that the government should rethink its decision to allow uranium exports to India.

If Australia sells uranium to India, then it would be complicit in any nuclear accidents there, warns Greens leader Christine Milne.

"India is likely to have an accident and if Australia sells uranium to India we are complicit in that, and no amount of the Prime Minister saying we are going to have some sort of reasonable agreement is going to shield us from the fact," she said, ABC reports.

India's auditor general and comptroller in August warned that a Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster could occur in India if the government doesn't address nuclear safety.

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