Aus puts tough condition on uranium sale to India

Aus puts tough condition on uranium sale to India
Australia should not sell uranium to India until it sets up an independent nuclear regulator, separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and allow safety inspections, a multi-party committee recommended today.

The Treaties Committee tabled a report in parliament into the uranium deal with India, carefully favouring it but with few recommendations including that India should be encouraged to become a party to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The report has for the first time addressed several issues including the uranium export to a nation which is not party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The merits of selling uranium to India, a deal which was inked last year by Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Narendra Modi, were being examined by experts as part of the Treaties Committee's inquiry into the Government's proposal.

The report said Australia must commit to "significant diplomatic resources to encouraging India to become a party to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and to negotiate a fissile material cut-off treaty."

India is not a signatory of the NPT nor CTBT. "It would be fair to say that, in this debate, there are no small risks or benefits. Every issue the Committee has dealt with in this inquiry bears significant potential benefits and risks," the report said.

"To begin with, the quantum of uranium involved could easily double the size of the uranium mining industry in Australia, bringing significant export revenue, and business and employment opportunities at a time when commodity prices for other mining exports are slowing the pace of growth in Australia’s mining industry," it said.

"For India, the significance of the proposed Agreement is possibly even greater. As an emerging world power with a considerable shortfall of generating capacity, nuclear powered electricity generation will grow as one of a number of generating sources selected because of their low carbon emissions," the report said.

It asked that given the benefits for Australia and India from the proposed agreement, can the risks be tolerated and ameliorated?

Australian authorities estimate India's uranium import could grow up to 2,000 tonnes a year, valued at 200 million dollars. India currently gets about 50 per cent of its energy from coal and only 2 per cent from nuclear power.

Australia holds about a third of the world's recoverable uranium resources, and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes a year.

Among recommendations, the report said that the uranium treaty only be ratified if India manages to achieve the full separation of civil and military nuclear facilities, and that it establishes a fully independent, nuclear regulatory body.

It also recommends the International Atomic Energy Agency verify that inspections of nuclear facilities live up to international standards.

The report said that while the NPT was performing well in limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, India as an emerging world power is on the wrong side by not signing it.
"The problem lies in the arbitrary date that separates those parties to the NPT who are nuclear weapons states and those who are not. India is on the wrong side of that date," the report said, adding that 40 years of isolation from NPT community have not prevented it from developing and deploying nuclear weapons.

"The Committee believes that if signatories to the NPT are going to accept India back into the non-proliferation mainstream, the Indian Government is going to have to act expeditiously to prove its non-proliferation credentials as an emerging world power," it said.

It further recommended Australian Government to consider facilitating the negotiation of a nuclear arms limitation treaty in the subcontinent region stating that for the Committee, the highest standard of safety in the use of Australian nuclear material was a central requirement.

"Should Australian nuclear material be sold to India, the Australian public will want to be assured that the nuclear material is being used safely," it said, pointing out that recent examinations by a number of institutions had indicated that safety standards were not as high as they should be, particularly in the areas of the independence of the nuclear regulator, and the quality and quantity of safety inspections.

"In relation to the specific issues associated with the proposed agreement itself, the bulk of these have been resolved to the Committee's satisfaction. In particular, the Committee is as assured as it can be that Australian nuclear material will be tracked and accounted for, and so will not be diverted into military applications," it said.

The committee recommended Australian government to outline the legal advice it has received in relation to the Treaty of Rarotonga and also if the proposed agreement breaches Australia's obligations under the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty.

"Overall, the Committee believes that, conditional on the recommendations relating to nuclear safety, the proposed Agreement represents a prudent and balanced approach to dealing with the nuclear material needs of an emerging and energy hungry world power.

"The Committee also believes that the proposed Agreement will make a measurable contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing damaging climate change into the future," it added.

The uranium sale agreement was tabled in the Australian Parliament last October and the committee chaired by liberal MP Wyatt Roy in the report said it took considerably longer than the allotted 20 sitting days to complete the inquiry.

John Carlson, the former director-general of Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, had early this year warned the committee that it would be "unthinkable" for Canberra to begin exporting uranium to India under this agreement because it would compromise longstanding commitments to nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation standards.

"A key objective of nuclear cooperation with India is to encourage India to meet international norms," Carlson said.

"This is not helped by compromising those norms...Nor is it in Australia's national interest to compromise our long- established safeguards standards in the hope of bilateral benefits," he had said.

In his submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Carlson had said, "The Australia-India nuclear cooperation agreement has too many serious deficiencies compared with all other Australian nuclear agreements, and should not proceed in its present form."

Arguing that the agreement did not guarantee uranium supply and was open to a future government to suspend uranium transfers to India, Carlson said, "It is not in the interest of either country to have a contentious agreement that fails to provide the long term predictability needed for energy planning.

"The opportunity should be taken now to get the agreement right, it will be much easier to do this through a revision before ratification, rather than as a formal treaty, amendments later."

Meanwhile, Australian Conservation Foundation has welcomed the committee's recommendations.

"The Committee's position is clear: the government can sign but not sell," Foundation's campaigner Dave Sweeney said.

"There are compelling reasons not to supply Australian uranium to India – especially at this time or on these terms.

"Australian uranium would definitely fuel radioactive waste and risk. It would also potentially fuel nuclear weapons and increase regional nuclear tension and rivalry.

"Australia certainly has a role in supporting India's legitimate energy aspirations, but we won't help India by retreating from responsibility on nuclear safeguards and security," Sweeney said.

"ACF urges the Abbott government to prioritise the Parliament, the public interest and Australia's international reputation over favours and fast-tracking for the under- performing uranium sector," the campaigner added.

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