Australia will soon begin negotiating to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates on condition that it is only used for peaceful power generation, the Australian government said on March 8. Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced the negotiations on a bilateral uranium trade agreement while visiting the Middle Eastern country's capital Abu Dhabi, according to a government statement released in Australia's capital, Canberra.

Australia, which holds 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves, does not sell uranium on the open market and bans nuclear power generation at home.

But it sells uranium solely for power generation under strict conditions that ban any military applications in bilateral trade agreements with the United States, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and several European countries. Australia refuses to consider uranium sales to India until New Delhi signs the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The UAE has already ratified that treaty and is negotiating or has concluded nuclear safeguards agreements with countries including the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Japan, Mr. Rudd said.

“Australia welcomes the UAE’s efforts to establish a responsible approach to nuclear power generation and hopes that it will serve as a model for other countries in the Middle East,” he said.

The trade conditions will ban nuclear material from being transferred to any third country and from being used in weapons or to power warships.

The seven-state Emirates federation is building its first nuclear reactors on a sparsely populated desert along the Persian Gulf near the border with Saudi Arabia. Although it sits atop one of the Middle East's largest oil reserves, the OPEC member must import natural gas to fuel its existing power plants. Blackouts occasionally occur in pockets of the country during the hot summer months as power demand outstrips supply. The country expects its energy needs to double by the end of the decade. The federal government in Abu Dhabi awarded a South Korean consortium the $20 billion contract to build four 1,400-megawatt reactors in late 2009.

Before that deal was signed, the UAE reached an agreement with the United States to import, not produce, fuel for its nuclear reactors. The Emirates committed not to enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel into plutonium, which is used in nuclear bombs.

Washington has promoted its plan to help the UAE develop peaceful nuclear power as a model of the kind of cooperation it would like to achieve with nearby Iran. The U.S. and its allies suspect Tehran is using a civilian program as a cover to develop an atomic weapons capability.

Keywords: UAEAustraliauranium

More In: Comment | Opinion