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Updated: November 16, 2011 01:10 IST

Australia, at last, may sell uranium to India

Special Correspondent
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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard makes a statement at the APEC summit. File photo
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard makes a statement at the APEC summit. File photo

Australia has given indications of reversing the ban on selling uranium to India in return for greater strategic proximity between the two countries. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, after pushing for India's case in a newspaper article and at a press conference on Tuesday, will have to persuade the Labour Party to endorse her stand at its conference next month.

India welcomed the move with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna terming it an endorsement of the country's “impeccable non-proliferation credentials.'' But it remains to be seen whether Australia will insist on a regime of inspections similar to its pact with China. Also, the Green Party, which backs the Labour Government, is opposed to Australia supplying uranium to a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Home to 40 per cent of economically extractable uranium and globally the third largest exporter, Australia had agreed to supply uranium but the decision was overturned after the Labour Party defeated the incumbent Conservatives in 2007.

This took a toll on the bilateral relations and India was prepared to send an envoy to the Labour Party's conference to explain its energy needs and stand on proliferation.

Ms. Gillard set the ball rolling the first thing in the morning with her op-ed article in the Sydney Morning Herald. “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,” she wrote.

The Prime Minster followed this up at a news conference in Canberra later in the day. The first issue she mentioned was the question of uranium and India. “The Labour Party's current platform prevents us selling uranium to India, because it is not part of the NPT. I believe the time has come for the Labour Party to change this position.”

‘Significant issue'

Besides contributing to the Australian economy, Ms. Gillard said, the sale was justified because of a “change in diplomatic circumstances around the world,” meaning the Nuclear Supplier's Group allowing India to join the global civil nuclear commerce mainstream. “For us to refuse to budge is all pain with no gain and I believe that our national platform should recognise that reality. So this is a significant issue for Australia that will be the subject of discussion and debate at our National Conference, but I am making my position on this issue very clear,” she explained.

What Ms. Gillard left unsaid has been detailed in an Australian government's approach paper on the defence architecture, which suggested the beginning of a U.S.-Australia-India trilateral dialogue. This theme has been picked up by think tanks, who feel after some time the trio could get into joint naval operations and theatre missile defence.

With U.S. quarterbacking the effort, India had agreed for a trilateral dialogue with Japan as the third partner. Both Japan and Australia are among the half-a-dozen Asia-Pacific states that have long-standing military and intelligence sharing pacts with the U.S.

These countries had tested the waters earlier by holding a meeting of the “quadrilateral” – the U.S., India, Australia and Japan, with Singapore as a junior partner – in Manila and following it up with the biggest-ever naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal in 2007. But there was no second edition after the initiative earned demarches from China and opprobrium from the opposition parties.

India had reasons to be upset when then Special Envoy to Prime Minister Shyam Saran was told that the Labour Government had decided to upturn the decision to sell uranium to India. “It is true that the previous government had said it would supply uranium to India. This government had a policy before the elections. It was restated [to Mr. Saran] very clearly. But it doesn't mean we like India any less than the previous government... India is very important but uranium is a problem for us,” then Australian High Commissioner John McCarthy had told The Hindu.

India has refused to sign the NPT because it believes the treaty is discriminatory by allowing a handful of countries to retain nuclear weapons.

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This is a stupid decision!! We should NOT be trusting india their people
have dead set anti-australian sentiment and are corrupt to the bone. We
should be making friends with china only because china is our future.
India hates Australia and we are just selling them the rope they will
use to hang us!!

from:  patrick
Posted on: Nov 23, 2011 at 18:20 IST

Australia's futre lies with china, i trust them more than India plus if oil goes up India's exploding population along with bangladesh and pakistan will simply start eating the rich,you have a problem that is your going to spend most of your money trying to feed 1.12 billion now, expanding to 1.6 billion in only 13 years! after that all of your gains will be fed apon by your unbelievable breeding masses.STOP now or take over russia one or the other ,Australia is larger than india yet we have only 22 million and we produce more wheat than Russia and india combined.

from:  sean crowley
Posted on: Nov 17, 2011 at 08:51 IST

Even though Australia is ready to sell Uranium to India, the government of India has to ensure that there is good system/ technology/ infrastructure in place before importing it.

from:  GKR
Posted on: Nov 16, 2011 at 18:42 IST

I am not against uranium or nuclear power, however my main concern is that India has so far not demonstrated it has any consideration to health and safety in the management of a hazardous material. Look at how it mismanages the use, manufacture and handling of asbestos. How can the global community allow Canada to export asbestos to India knowing that India allows thousands to die from asbestos can Australia be sure that it's uranium is used/handled/stored appropriately to protect it's people? I doubt it would be possible for Australia to genuinely have assurance of India's methods - I say a very strong NO to selling uranium to India - it surely won't be an earthquake or tsunami to cause a catastrophe - India does it on it's own.

from:  Sivionne
Posted on: Nov 16, 2011 at 13:56 IST

"The change in diplomatic circumstances around the world" is given as the reason by Ms.Gillard, the Australian PM, for a rethink on selling of Uranium to India; yet this opinion is to be sold to her labour party in government; secondly, the re-polarization of the Global Nations changing with every poll and change of governments, it is uncertain such commitments by an earlier regime would or could be honored. By some pretext, they could rescind. Dependence on import of critical raw materials like Uranium that could jeopardize massive vital energy projects need to be resisted; at a critical juncture, you could be left high and dry; this is another reason for refraining from nuclear power projects. Unless Thorium based nuclear power is perfected with proper safe operational and waste disposal technology, import dependent vital infrastructure developments could fail the Nation, when it is most inconvenient.

from:  M.R.Sampath
Posted on: Nov 16, 2011 at 09:47 IST

I hope we negotiate as equals... not look as if australia finally agreed to sell..With Australia's economy stalling.. it is also in their interest to sell to us....As a sovereign, even they need a source of income...

from:  Anand Shah
Posted on: Nov 16, 2011 at 08:33 IST

If change in politics influences decisions (impliedly by Australia) then statement made by Australian PM cannot be taken as reliable as an earlier decision to supply was overturned. Hence one has to be cautious. Half way through the nuclear civilian programme, if Australia changes its decision it may impact not only on power production but also lead to idling of assets that are expensive besided endangering public safety.
Change of heart by Australia might have also come about by reduction in demand (owing to Germany quitting nuclear power, Japanese Fukushima problem and other nations rethinking on nuclear power). There is also the pressure from mining interests that may not like to miss out on economic opportunity of selling Uranium when the mining output is less than half the optimum output. India has to think of avoiding future supply problems from Australia by ingenious political and financial penalties that will make Australia to abide by its commitment.

from:  BJR Rao
Posted on: Nov 16, 2011 at 02:41 IST

While Julia Gillard is trying to allow Uranium exports to India,the Pakistani's have also jumped into the fry. The Pakistan High Commissioner in Canberra issued a statement saying that Uranium sales should be considered to Pakistan as well due the 'Cordial' relations between the two countries! Pakistan is sufferring power shortages and should not be excluded as was in the US-India nuclear deal! Given the Paki track record it makes the Aussies think again?

from:  Avinash
Posted on: Nov 16, 2011 at 02:30 IST
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