November 15th, 2011
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Australia attempts to lift ban on Uranium export

Julia GillardPerth: The Australian government is pondering over the possibility of reversing the ban on the sales of Uranium to India. Prime Minister Julia Gillard supported the lifting the embargo that had strained the relations with India – the world’s biggest democracy. The Labour government that had come to power in 2007, had insisted that India signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India had refused to do so as it would entail getting rid of its nuclear arsenal.

Ms. Gillard is now pushing for Labour to endorse the policy of former Prime Minister John Howard and allow exports without the need for India to sign the treaty.

“We must, of course, expect of India the same standards we do of all countries for uranium export – strict adherence to International Atomic Energy Agency arrangements and strong bilateral and transparency measures which will provide assurances our uranium will be used only for peaceful purposes,” Ms Gillard wrote.

Australia has 40 per cent of the world’s easily recoverable uranium, the feedstock for nuclear power plants, but currently meets only 20 per cent of world demand. Ms. Gillard will campaign for a change at a Labour conference next month where delegates set policy that the parliamentary party must follow. However,The Greens, whose votes keep Ms. Gillard in power after a dead-heat election in August 2010, are opposed to lifting the ban.

“This is a country that has intermediate-range missiles,” Greens leader Bob Brown told national broadcaster ABC. “It’s developing a plethora of nuclear submarines with nuclear weapons.” Left-wing members of Ms. Gillard’s cabinet are also against the move but the prime minister’s change of heart could be compelling in reversing party policy.

Ms Lee pointed out that India has a better non-proliferation record than China, a buyer of Australian uranium, and should not be classed alongside nuclear-leaky North Korea and Pakistan. “The sale of uranium shouldn’t be viewed as a reward for signing the (treaty) but as reward for being responsible,” she said.

North Korea withdrew from the treaty, and India, Pakistan and Israel have never signed. When Mr. Howard was prime minister he supported India getting a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group that endorsed it as a nuclear-capable state. The waiver enables India to purchase uranium from suppliers other than Australia.

Canada, which also had a longstanding proscription on uranium sales to India, reversed that decision in 2009.

Australia, which has no nuclear power plants, exports around 10,000 tons of uranium a year, around a quarter of which goes to Japan. Uranium miners, who together shipped product worth 1 billion Australian dollars (1.3 billion U.S. dollars) last year, say annual receipts could grow to 17 billion Australian dollars by 2030 if world demand holds up.

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