Should Australia export uranium to India?

Click here to download a November 2011 letter to ALP National Conference delegates by 12 environmental and medical organisations.

Click here for a detailed November 2010 EnergyScience Coalition Briefing Paper on the debate over uranium sales to India.

Click here for a 4-page Choose Nuclear Free summary paper.

The Australian Liberal/National Coalition argues that uranium sales to India should be permitted. This would reverse long-standing bipartisan policy that prohibits uranium sales to countries outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Just four countries are outside the NPT, all of them nuclear weapons state (‘undeclared’ nuclear weapons states to use the jargon) – India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

The 2011 Labor National Conference adopted the Coalition’s policy. Prior to that, the Labor government supported the opening up of civil nuclear trade with India in the multinational Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

A more appropriate course of action for both parties would be to commit to strengthening rather than weakening the fracturing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime. To that end, Australia needs to maintain the ban on uranium sales to non-NPT states, to work internationally to re-establish that norm, and to be more pro-active in other areas such as policy on uranium supply to ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states flouting their disarmament obligations under the NPT.

Below is an article by retired Australian Ambassador Prof. Richard Broinowski which outlines the key issues.

Selling uranium to India will do great damage, with little gain to Australia

The Age, November 1, 2010
www.theage.com.au/business/selling-uranium-to-india-will-do-great-damage-with-little-gain-to-australia-20101031-178uk.html

The arguments in favour of uranium sales to India are demonstrably spurious, writes Richard Broinowski.

THE Commonwealth Games have come and gone. But India will not long be out of the media spotlight thanks to opposition deputy leader Julie Bishop’s crusade to overturn long-standing bipartisan policy prohibiting the sale of uranium to countries that refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Supporters of uranium trade with India − a nuclear weapons state outside the NPT − insist that non-proliferation and disarmament concessions can be achieved. But the US has concluded a deal to open up civil nuclear trade with India, and some others have followed suit. Australia will need to learn from their experience.

India made no concessions whatsoever during the US-India deal − no commitment to curb its escalating nuclear weapons program, no commitment to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, no commitment to stop producing fissile material for weapons. It would be naive to imagine Australia could win concessions from India that the US was unable to do.

The US-India deal is instructive in other ways. Sceptics warned that opening up civil trade with one non-NPT nation would open the door for others: a dispute is now unfolding over reports that China plans to supply Pakistan with nuclear reactors. They warned, too, that nuclear trade with India would increase its capacity to produce weapons material and thus escalate the nuclear arms race with Pakistan: India and Pakistan are now expanding their nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Proponents of nuclear trade with India argued that it could be made conditional on a cessation of the production of fissile material for weapons. But India’s fissile material production continues apace, and consequently Pakistan has been blocking progress on a proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty in the UN Conference on Disarmament.

Proponents celebrated the expansion of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards achieved under the US-India deal. However, under India’s agreement with the IAEA, safeguards will be tokenistic and apply only to that part of the nuclear program that India considers surplus to its military ”requirements”.

Even in the unlikely event that a rigorous safeguards regime provided confidence that Australian uranium would not be used in India’s weapons program, that would not undo the damage done to the NPT by opening up civil nuclear trade with non-NPT states. Nor would safeguards address another key problem: Australian uranium freeing up India’s limited domestic supplies for weapons production.

Proponents of the deal have resorted to the disingenuous argument that India’s ”moratorium” on nuclear tests is a victory. But the ”moratorium” was already in place before the US-India negotiations began, and it is clearly no substitute for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Beyond the Indian subcontinent, the sale of Australian uranium to India would signal to some of our major uranium customers, such as Japan and South Korea, that we do not take too seriously their own adherence to the NPT. They may as a result walk away from the NPT and develop nuclear weapons without necessarily fearing a cut-off of Australian supplies.

If there is an argument for uranium sales to India, it is that the damage has already been done to the NPT and the non-proliferation regime, and Australia might as well get in there and make a few bucks from selling uranium. But that argument has its faults.

First, uranium sales to India would do very little to expand Australia’s export revenue − which helps explain why the Australian Uranium Association supports the government’s policy of prohibiting uranium sales to countries that have not signed the NPT. If Australia supplied one-fifth of India’s current demand, uranium exports would increase by a measly 1.8 per cent. Even if all reactors under construction or planned in India come on line, Australia’s uranium exports would increase by just 10 per cent.

The climate change ”benefits” would be equally underwhelming, resting as they do on the dodgy premise that Australian uranium would replace coal rather than simply replacing uranium from another source or replacing renewable energy sources.

Second, while the non-proliferation regime has certainly been damaged, there is no justification for Australia to damage it further. Few countries support the opening up of nuclear trade with countries that refuse to sign the NPT. The 118 countries of the Nonaligned Movement voiced objections during the NPT Review Conference in New York this year.

Prime Minister Gillard has a choice. She can stand with the vast majority of nations in upholding − and attempting to strengthen − the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Or she can stand with the wreckers − Julie Bishop included − and comfort herself with the thought that Australia’s uranium export revenue will increase by 1.8 per cent

Richard Broinowski is an adjunct professor at the University of Sydney and a former Australian ambassador to Vietnam, Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Central American Republics and Cuba.