No deadline for uranium sale to India, says Australia

An open cut escarpment at the Ranger Uranium Mine, 250 km east of Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory.— Photo: AFP  

No timeframe or deadline could be set for Australia to start uranium exports to India. But Australia's decision to export to India is firmly in place, despite opposition in some quarters, and both nations are discussing the issue to seal a deal, Australia's Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said on Monday.

“There are some groups, including the Green Party, which are opposed to the sale of uranium to India. The [ruling] Labor Party and the present government have decided to allow uranium exports to India only for peaceful use and generation of clean energy. The uranium is strictly for civilian use and not any other purpose,” he told a delegation of South Asian journalists here.

The exports would come about only after the formalities in respect of issues pertaining to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Supplies Group (NSG) were fulfilled by India, he said.

On December 4 last year, the Labor Party of Prime Minister Julia Gillard decided to end the ban on uranium sales to India.

Officials say India and Australia are negotiating a bilateral safeguards treaty. Ms. Gillard has made it clear that Australia will apply the same standards to India as it does to all countries to which it exports uranium. These are strict adherence to the IAEA's arrangements, strong bilateral undertakings and measures to ensure that the uranium will be used only for peaceful purposes.

Interestingly, India and Australia are also negotiating a Free Trade Agreement, which is expected to boost trade and services. India has refused to sign the NPT, arguing that the treaty is discriminatory, allowing a handful of countries to retain nuclear weapons.

Officials say that lifting of the curbs will help to bring in big investments in the uranium sector, as India is seen as a major power attaching importance to nuclear energy. India proposes to generate 20000 MW of nuclear energy by 2022, so it needs uranium imports.

It will take some time before uranium starts flowing into India, officials say.

The move to export to India has been welcomed by Australia's uranium mining industry, which has come under great pressure after the Fukushima disaster last year. The demand has fallen, and the news of Australia agreeing to sell to India led to a 10 per cent increase in uranium prices in global markets.

Australia is the world's third largest producer and exporter of uranium, after Kazakhstan and Canada. Over the past 10 years, Australia's production has averaged out at 8,500 tonnes a year, around 20 per cent of the world's production from 2000 to 2010.

Australia has the world's largest known reserves of uranium, amounting to 23 per cent of the world's total reserves.

Mr. Ferguson said the United Arab Emirates had hinted at setting up three nuclear power reactors, for which it would require uranium, and the Chinese were also going ahead with nuclear power generation.