Published on Wednesday March 09 2011
Australia would impose strict conditions on any uranium exports to India if the ruling Labor Party dropped its ban on sales to the country, Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told Reuters on Wednesday March 9.
Ferguson is leading a push for the Labor Party to change its policy, which currently bans uranium exports to countries which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to allow sales to energy hungry India.
Australia also negotiates bilateral nuclear safeguards agreements with uranium buyers, which ensure Australian material cannot be used for nuclear weapons.
"If we were to go down the track of opening up sales of uranium to India, there would be even tougher process of negotiations," Ferguson said in an interview. "Country by country, it is a separate diplomatic process."
India has long complained about Australia's uranium policy as it seeks access to nuclear supplies for its booming electricity sector and growing economy. Australia expects India to build five new nuclear reactors by 2016.
Australia has almost 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves, but supplies only 19 percent of the world market from three current mines, BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam, the world's biggest uranium mine, Energy Resources Australia's Ranger mine in the Northern Territory, and the Beverly mine, owned by U.S. company General Atomics.
Exports in the year to July 1, 2011 are forecast at 8,700 tonnes, up 21 percent on the previous year, with mine production set expand an average 15 percent per year to July 2016 as several new mines set to start production.
Australia has 22 bilateral nuclear safeguard agreements, which allow exports to 39 countries.
In recent years, Australia has signed agreements with Russia and China, and Australia has already sent its first shipments of uranium to China, where uranium consumption is projected to grow by 44 percent to 18,000 tonnes by 2016.
Ferguson said India's agreement with the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, to open inspections of its civilian nuclear facilities, proved India was not a rogue nuclear nation.
The minister will push for the Labor Party to change its policy at the party's national conference, due in the second half of 2011. He said the debate would be hard fought, just like the party's 2007 decision to overturn its ban on new uranium mines.
"These are highly sensitive sacred cows," Ferguson said. "Nothing comes easy in terms of tough policy decisions. This is a delicate and tough debate within the party."
Earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia would begin negotiating a nuclear safeguards agreement with the United Arab Emirates for potential sales of uranium.