Uranium Sales to India
Jim Green, Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction
The federal government’s plan to permit uranium sales to India has been subjected to a strong critique by the former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), John Carlson. Others to have raised concerns include former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt, and Ron Walker, former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. But Carlson’s critique carries particular weight given his 21 years experience as the head of Australia’s safeguards office.
Carlson notes that the civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed by Australia and India in September contains “substantial departures from Australia’s current safeguards conditions” which suggest “that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium supplied to India.”
Carlson writes: “Disturbingly, it is reported that Indian officials will not provide Australia with reports accounting for material under the agreement, and that the Abbott Government seems prepared to waive this requirement for India. … The reporting procedures are not optional; they are fundamental to Australia’s ability to confirm that our safeguards conditions are being met. They have long applied to close and trusted partners such as the US, the EU, Japan and South Korea. There is absolutely no case to waive them for India.”
The failure to provide regular reports “will also expose the agreement to potential legal challenge under the 1987 Safeguards Act”, Carlson writes. (Another problem, not mentioned, is that nuclear material could be diverted and reports falsified. There is little likelihood that the falsification of reports would be detected.)
Carlson notes that provisions for ‘fallback safeguards’ in the event of IAEA safeguards ceasing to apply are vague and open to differing interpretations.
There are many concerns other than those noted by Carlson. The IAEA−India safeguards agreement is on the public record, if only because it was leaked, and it is clear from the agreement that safeguards inspections are few and far between. A leaked IAEA document states that the IAEA “will not mechanistically or systematically seek to verify” information obtained from India.
Carlson notes that the ‘administrative arrangement’ which will append the nuclear cooperation agreement may be “even more consequential than the agreement itself” as it sets out the working procedures for the agreement. But the Australian public will never get to see the administrative arrangement. And the Australian public will never be able to find out any information about the separation and stockpiling of weapons-useable plutonium in India; or nuclear accounting discrepancies (‘Material Unaccounted For’); or even the quantity of Australian uranium (and its by-products) held in India.
Race to export uranium to India only has a booby prize
Jim Green, The Courier-Mail, 8 Sept 2014
CLAIMS about the potential economic benefits of uranium sales to India are laughable.
Michael Angwin from the Australian Uranium Association claimed that Australia could sell 2500 tonnes of uranium annually to India by 2030, generating export sales of $300 million. A 2011 report in the Fairfax press claimed that uranium sales to India could generate $1.7 billion in annual exports.
Such claims ignore readily available facts. According to the World Nuclear Association, India’s uranium demand this year will amount to just 913 tonnes – just 1.4 per cent of world demand. If Australia supplies 20 per cent of that demand, uranium export revenue will increase by 3 per cent.
Vanessa Guthrie from Adelaide-based uranium explorer Toro Energy, who is accompanying Prime Minister Tony Abbott on his trip to India, claims that by 2018-19 the uranium industry could generate 10,000 jobs. But according to the most generous estimate, that of the World Nuclear Association, uranium mining and exploration account for just 1700 jobs in Australia – that’s 0.015 per cent of all jobs. So Guthrie anticipates a sixfold expansion in just five years, at a time when global nuclear power capacity is stagnant? That’s laughable. Mr Abbott may struggle to keep a straight face as Guthrie dishes up this nonsense in India.
But there’s nothing funny about other aspects of the proposal to sell uranium to India. It is foolish and dangerous to sell uranium to a country that is actively expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal and refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
And there’s nothing funny about brutal state repression of many thousands of Indian citizens protesting against nuclear projects, including the murder of at least five people.
The hopeless mismanagement of India’s nuclear industry would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. India’s Public Accounts Committee said in a report last year that the country’s nuclear safety regime is “fraught with grave risks” and that the nuclear regulator is weak and under-resourced. In 2012, India’s Auditor-General found that 60 per cent of safety inspections for operating nuclear power plants were either delayed or not undertaken at all.
And there’s nothing funny about the risks arising from domestic and regional political tensions in India. To give just one example, transport of uranium to the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd processing plant was suspended in May after an ore-laden truck was torched by Maoists.
Prime Minister Abbott is promising “suitable safeguards” to ensure that Australian uranium remains in peaceful use in India. But Australia has no authority or capacity to carry out safeguard inspections in India – we are entirely reliant on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA−India safeguards agreement is on the public record, if only because it was leaked, and it is clear from the agreement that inspections will be few and far between, if indeed there are any inspections at all.
Even if IAEA inspections do occur in India, another problem looms: uranium exports freeing up India’s domestic reserves for weapons production. K. Subrahmanyam, former head of the India’s National Security Advisory Board, has said that: “Given India’s uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our minimum credible nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, it is to India’s advantage to categorise as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refuelled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons-grade plutonium production.”
Directly or indirectly, Australia will be fuelling a nuclear arms race in South Asia … for a pittance in return.
Gillard’s uranium sales push will have dangerous fall-out
Canberra Times, 15 Nov 2011
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s arguments in favour of uranium sales to India are dangerous and dishonest. She fails to even acknowledge the crucial problem – India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT is the main international nuclear treaty and is routinely described by Australian political leaders as the ”cornerstone” of the non-proliferation system. The NPT has its flaws, not least the failure of the nuclear weapons states to take seriously their disarmament obligations, but that is no reason to junk the treaty or to disregard it.
On the contrary, the NPT needs much greater support. The least we should expect is that Australia maintains its policy of requiring uranium customer countries to be NPT signatories and to take seriously their NPT obligations.
The United States and some other countries have opened up nuclear trade with India in recent years. Thus the NPT has already been damaged and weakened. But that is no justification for Australia to weaken it further. According to the nuclear lobby, Australia is now isolated in its stance. Nothing could be further from the truth – only a minority of countries support the opening up of nuclear trade with countries that refuse to sign the NPT. The 118 countries of the Non-aligned Movement voiced strong objections during the NPT Review Conference in New York last year.
The events set in train by the opening up of nuclear trade with India have been disastrous from a non-proliferation standpoint. They have led to an escalating nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and a weakening of the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime which others are now exploiting (e.g. China’s plan to supply reactors to Pakistan).
Another serious problem is that the precedent set by nuclear trade with India increases the risk of other countries pulling out of the NPT and building nuclear weapons with the expectation that nuclear trade would continue. As former Australian ambassador Professor Richard Broinowski notes: ”The sale of Australian uranium to India would signal to some of our major uranium customers, such as Japan and South Korea, that we do not take too seriously their own adherence to the NPT. They may as a result walk away from the NPT and develop nuclear weapons without necessarily fearing a cut-off of Australian supplies.”
Prime Minister Gillard argues that ”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 undertakings and transparency measures that will provide assurances our uranium will only be used for peaceful purposes.”
Such claims are uninformed or dishonest. The International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement with India does not provide for comprehensive or full-scope safeguards. Safeguards apply only to that part of the nuclear program that India considers surplus to military ”requirements”. IAEA safeguards inspections in India will at best be tokenistic and will most likely be non-existent (as they are in Russia – another of Australia’s uranium customer countries). Moreover, even if a rigorous safeguards regime was in place in India (and it most certainly is not), that would in no way undo the damage done to the NPT by opening up nuclear trade with countries that refuse to sign and abide by the treaty.
Prime Minister Gillard argues that ”as in other areas, broadening our [uranium] markets will increase jobs”. However, if Australia supplied one-fifth of India’s current demand, uranium exports would increase by a measly 1.8per cent. Even if all reactors under construction or planned in India come on line, Australia’s uranium exports would increase by just 10per cent. That level of uranium exports might – might – support one very small, additional uranium mine employing a few dozen people. Much more likely, exports would come from existing mines and no additional jobs would be created.
Uranium exports will do nothing to reduce greenhouse emissions in India, twice over. Firstly, because uranium supply is no constraint to nuclear power expansion in India. Secondly, because renewables and energy efficiency could very easily substitute for India’s nuclear program.
Australia has uranium export agreements with nuclear weapons states flouting their NPT disarmament obligations; countries with a history of secret nuclear weapons research; countries that refuse to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty; and undemocratic, secretive states with appalling human rights records. Now the Prime Minister proposes ditching the requirement for uranium customer countries to be NPT signatories.
Delegates to the ALP national conference in December should stop the rot and take a principled stand. Media reports assume that the Right faction of the Labor Party will fall in behind the Prime Minister. But the Labor Right has a history of splitting on uranium debates.
Indeed one of the most outspoken MPs opposing a change of policy with respect to uranium exports to India has been Kelvin Thomson from the Right.
Promises and U-turns of the nuclear kind
ABC Opinion 18 Nov 2011
The nuclear lobby has been softening us up for years to the idea of selling uranium to nuclear-armed India. They’ve promised the world – and delivered nothing.
This con-job began with the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement concluded in 2008. Proponents of the agreement promised non-proliferation and disarmament concessions from India but the opposite occurred. India did not commit to nuclear weapons disarmament or even to a process that would – or might – lead to disarmament in the long term. India did not commit to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India has not stopped producing fissile (explosive) material for nuclear weapons nor has it committed to doing so.
There is no restraint on India building new, unsafeguarded reactors or other facilities for its weapons program. India did not commit to comprehensive safeguards inspections. India is able to divert more of its own uranium to weapons and the net result of the US-India agreement has been to boost India’s capacity to produce fissile material for weapons.
Proponents of the US-India agreement resorted – and continue to resort – to dishonest arguments. These include the claim that India’s ‘moratorium’ on nuclear tests is a victory although it was in place before the US-India negotiations (and before India’s 1998 weapons tests!) and is clearly no substitute for signing and ratifying the CTBT.
India’s willingness to separate its peaceful and military programs is portrayed as a successful outcome, but it does not constrain India’s nuclear weapons program in any way and is part of a process which legitimises India’s weapons program and facilitates its expansion.
The mantra that India has a good track record on nuclear non-proliferation beggars belief. India is a nuclear weapons state, tested weapons in 1974 and 1998, violated its pledge not to use a Canadian-supplied research reactor to produce plutonium for weapons, refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the CTBT, has a history of illicit nuclear procurement and inadequate nuclear export controls, and continues to expand its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. Could India possibly have a worse record?
The events set in train by the opening up of nuclear trade with India have been disastrous from a non-proliferation standpoint. They have led to an escalating nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and a weakening of the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime which others are now exploiting – an important example being China’s plan to supply reactors to Pakistan in the wake of the US-India agreement.
As Opposition Leader in 2007, Kevin Rudd argued against uranium sales to India with the prescient warning that: “No-one in Australia wants a nuclear arms race aided by us in the Indian sub-continent or between India and China because we’ve failed to properly ensure the upholding of the NPT and the [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards regime under it.”
Another serious problem is that the precedent set by nuclear trade with India increases the risk of other countries pulling out of the NPT, and building nuclear weapons with the expectation that civil nuclear trade would continue.
What steps could Australia take to extricate us from the current mess – the South Asian nuclear arms race, and the broader problem of nuclear proliferation?
Option #1 is to leave uranium in the ground. It’s not as radical an idea as it might sound. Uranium accounts for a paltry 0.3 per cent of national export revenue and 0.03 per cent of Australian jobs. Few would notice if the industry vanished and still fewer would miss it.
Option #2 is to apply current government policy – restricting supply to countries that have signed the NPT. A variation of that option would be to restrict supply to NPT signatories that are serious about their non-proliferation and disarmament obligations – that would require a rethink of supply to, for example, the US and China since they have not ratified the CTBT.
Option #3 would be to insist on meaningful concessions from India as a condition of uranium supply.
One condition would be an immediate, verified cessation of the production of fissile material for weapons and agreement that uranium supply would cease immediately if India resumed the production of fissile material for weapons.
A second, important condition would be for India to sign and ratify the CTBT along with a bilateral treaty provision making it clear that uranium supply would cease if India resumed weapons testing. (By way of stark contrast, the US-India agreement contains mind-boggling clauses about the steps to be taken to ensure ongoing nuclear trade even if India does resume weapons testing.)
A third condition would be an end to India’s development and testing of nuclear-capable missiles. Julia Gillard didn’t forewarn Kevin Rudd about her announcement on Wednesday but it’s likely that India was forewarned – and duly celebrated by testing an intermediate-range missile.
Option #4 is to sell uranium to India with no meaningful conditions whatsoever. That is the path that Gillard and Rudd are set upon. There will be some theatre but the intention is to pursue the one and only option that is completely irresponsible and indefensible.
The theatre show will have two parts. Firstly, the ‘robust’ debate at the ALP national conference in Sydney next month. Can’t wait. (By the way, have you heard what Peter Garrett said in response to the Prime Minister’s statement about uranium sales to India? No? Neither have I.)
The second part of the theatre show will be the intrigue as to whether India will agree to the ‘strict’ bilateral conditions that Australia requires of uranium customer countries. The gullible media will follow this in detail without waking up to underlying realpolitik. Rumours of Indian intrasigence will be leaked – just for show. Foreign Minister Rudd, or Prime Minister Gillard, or Prime Minister Rudd, will ride in on a white horse and save the day. India will agree to the bilateral conditions.
Of course India will agree to the bilateral conditions – they aren’t worth the paper they are written on. We insist on prior Australian consent before plutonium is separated from spent fuel arising from Australian uranium. Great – but Australia has never once refused permission to separate plutonium, even when there is a compelling case to do so. We insist on prior Australian consent before enriching uranium beyond 20 per cent uranium-235. Great – but no country has ever asked permission to enrich beyond 20 per cent, and most likely no country would be refused if they did ask.
Of course India will agree to the bilateral conditions – after a bit of theatre.
Precious few Australians would expect anything other than duplicity and deceit from the major parties but we have also been let down by the media. An ABC TV news anchor, for example, asserted as fact that strict safeguards inspections would apply to uranium supplied to India. In truth, International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards will be tokenistic or non-existent – the IAEA has neither the resources nor the inclination to seriously apply safeguards in nuclear weapons states. Senior Fairfax journalists have remained silent on the serious issues – including the very, very serious issue of nuclear proliferation in South Asia – while pumping out a load of ephemeral hoo-ha about internal ALP political machinations.
A bit more thought from the think tanks would also be welcome. The Lowy Institute, for example, has for years been promoting a raft of non-proliferation concessions that could be won in the context of a uranium supply agreement with India. But in the past few days the institute has been enthusiastically promoting uranium sales to India with no mention whatsoever of winning any concessions.
The Institute’s Rory Medcalf promotes uranium sales to India on the grounds that ”Australia has to be more actively engaged in the civil nuclear energy revival globally if we are going to be a credible player in the non-proliferation environment.”
In other words, undermining the NPT − the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime − is a necessary step towards strengthening that regime. Go figure.
Safeguarding uranium exports to India
Online Opinion, 2 Dec 2011
A big part of the PR pitch for uranium sales to nuclear-armed India is the assertion that ‘strict’ safeguards will ‘ensure’ peaceful use of Australian uranium. Sadly, it’s just PR.
The claim sits uncomfortably with the reality that safeguards are based on occasional inspections of some nuclear plants by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The claim sits even more uncomfortably with the observations of recently-retired IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei that the Agency’s basic rights of inspection are “fairly limited”, the safeguards system suffers from “vulnerabilities” and efforts to improve it have been “half-hearted”, and the system operates on a “shoestring budget…comparable to a local police department”.
To give an illustration of the contrast between reality and rhetoric, the Gillard Government takes credit for insisting that all of Australia’s uranium customer countries must have an ‘Additional Protocol’ in place with the IAEA – an agreement which provides for expanded inspection rights. The genesis of that policy is revealing. Australia waited until all of Australia’s uranium customer countries had an Additional Protocol in place before announcing that it was a requirement for all customer countries. We weren’t driving improvements in the international safeguards regime but merely indulging in a cynical, retrospective PR exercise.
What about safeguards in India? Australia has no capacity for independent monitoring and verification. We are entirely reliant on the IAEA. The safeguards agreement between the IAEA and India is on the public record and it certainly doesn’t provide for strict safeguards. It provides for safeguards that will be tokenistic or non-existent.
Arms Control Today thoroughly dissected the IAEA-India safeguards agreement and noted that: “Reporting provisions…not contained in India’s agreement cover information such as nuclear fuel-cycle-related research and development, nuclear-related imports, and uranium mining. The Indian additional protocol also does not include any complementary access provisions, which provide the IAEA with the potential authority to inspect undeclared facilities.”
A leaked 2009 IAEA document states that the IAEA “will not mechanistically or systematically seek to verify” information obtained from India. It makes another statement of relevance to uranium suppliers: “The verification activities in question are not linked to quantitative yardsticks such as inventories of nuclear materials.”
The IAEA document also states: “The frequency and intensity of IAEA inspections shall be kept to the minimum consistent with the aim of improving safeguards.” That is standard diplomatic jargon – it means that safeguards will be infrequent or non-existent except in circumstances where the IAEA wants to test novel safeguards technologies or procedures and India agrees to take part.
Proponents of nuclear trade with India argue that it will bring 65 per cent (14 out of 22) of India’s reactors under safeguards. But it does not curtail India’s nuclear weapons program by 65 per cent − it does not curtail India’s weapons program at all. Nuclear trade will do more to facilitate India’s nuclear weapons program than to curtail it. Safeguards apply only to that part of the nuclear program that India considers surplus to military ‘requirements’. India is free to build new, unsafeguarded reactors or other facilities for its weapons program. The opening up of nuclear trade with India has clearly escalated the South Asian nuclear arms race.
Will safeguards in India be tokenistic or non-existent? No point asking the IAEA or the Australian safeguards office – both organisations are notorious for their secrecy and for failing to respond to questions. What little information is on the public record seems designed to confuse rather than to clarify – specifically, the IAEA provides some aggregate data on the number of inspections carried out in India, Israel and Pakistan but no India-specific information. From 2005-09, 44–50 safeguards inspections were carried out each year in those three countries, but the figure increased to 67 last year. So perhaps safeguards in India will be tokenistic rather than non-existent?
Even if a credible safeguards regime were established to ensure peaceful use of Australian uranium in India – and it won’t – that would in no way undo the damage done to the nuclear non-proliferation regime by permitting uranium sales to countries refusing to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Nor would a rigorous safeguards regime address another key problem: uranium exports to India freeing up domestic reserves for weapons production. K. Subrahmanyam, former head of the India’s National Security Advisory Board, has said that: “Given India’s uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our minimum credible nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, it is to India’s advantage to categorize as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refueled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons grade plutonium production.”
Which leaves advocates of uranium sales to India with the drug-dealer’s defence: some other countries have abandoned the principle that nuclear trade should be restricted to Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories so Australia might as well follow suit. Yet, as Ron Walker, former Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors, argued last week: “India is a democracy and yes we want to be in their good books, but that is no reason to drop our principles and our interests. To make an exception for them would be crass cronyism. If you make exceptions to your rules for your mates, you weaken your ability to apply them to everyone else. How could we be harder on Japan and South Korea if they acquired nuclear weapons? Could we say Israel is less of a mate than India?”
The alternative course for Australia is to side with the large majority of the world’s countries who want to re-establish and reinforce the principle that nuclear trade should be restricted to countries that have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and take seriously their non-proliferation and disarmament commitments.
We could take a principled rather than an unprincipled approach. We could lead rather than follow.
Australia’s bargain basement Boxing Day special on uranium
Online Opinion, 9 Dec 2011
How low can Australia go with uranium export policy? Can we match the bargain-basement Boxing Day specials? You bet we can. We now have uranium export agreements with all of the ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states – the U.S., U.K., China, France, Russia – although not one of them takes seriously its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue disarmament in good faith. That weakness, among others, is now being used to justify disregarding the NPT altogether with sales to India. Selling uranium to countries in breach of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament norms violates Australian government policy and binding Labor platform policy. That’s pretty low.
We claim to have championed the adoption of ‘Additional Protocols’, agreements that provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with somewhat greater powers to uncover covert weapons programs. But we waited until all of our customer countries had an Additional Protocol in place before making it a condition of uranium sales, that’s not leveraging improvements in the safeguards regime, it’s low-brow PR.
We claim to be working to discourage countries from producing fissile (explosive) material for nuclear bombs, yet we export uranium to countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. And we give Japan permission to separate and stockpile plutonium although that stockpiling has fanned regional proliferation risks and tensions in North-East Asia for many years.
In 1993, cables from the U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo posed these questions: “Can Japan expect that if it embarks on a massive plutonium recycling program that Korea and other nations would not press ahead with reprocessing programs? Would not the perception of Japan’s being awash in plutonium and possessing leading edge rocket technology create anxiety in the region?”
Australia’s response? We have weakened the previous policy of requiring case-by-case permission to separate and stockpile plutonium, and we now give Japan open-ended permission. That’s pretty low. In theory, Australia has a relatively ‘strict’ policy of requiring Australian consent to separate and stockpile plutonium produced from Australian uranium. In practice we have failed when put to the test and permission to separate plutonium has never once been refused.
We sell uranium to countries with a recent history of weapons-related research. In 2004, South Korea disclosed information about a range of weapons-related R&D over the preceding 20 years. Australia has supplied South Korea with uranium since 1986. We don’t know whether Australian uranium or its by-products were used in any of the illicit research in South Korea. The attitude from the Howard government and its safeguards office was ‘see no evil, hear no evil’.
The 2006 approval to sell uranium to China set another new low: uranium sales to an undemocratic, secretive state with an appalling human rights record (such as jailing nuclear whistle-blowers). That precedent was reinforced with the subsequent approval of uranium sales to Russia (another undemocratic nuclear weapons state, though Russia prefers to deal with dissidents by poisoning them with radioactive polonium).
The Russian agreement set a new low: uranium sales to a country that is very rarely visited by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards inspectors – just two inspections over the past decade. Federal parliament’s treaties committee recommended against uranium sales to Russia until some sort of safeguards system was put in place, only to have its recommendation ignored.
Another new low with the Russian agreement: we granted permission to Russia to process Australian uranium at a nuclear plant that is entirely beyond the scope of IAEA inspections. The IAEA has no authority to inspect the plant even if it had the resources and the inclination to do so.
The decision to sell to India sets a new low: uranium sales to a country which is outside the NPT altogether and is not subject to the requirement of the ‘declared’ weapons states to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith. As former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt recently said: “The discrimination is in India’s favour, not against it.”
And another low: India would be the only one of Australia’s uranium customers that is definitely continuing to produce fissile material for weapons (China may also be doing so).
And another low: we take pride in Australia’s ‘leadership’ role in the development of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty yet we sell uranium to countries that have signed but not ratified the CTBT (the U.S and China) and the government now plans to sell uranium to India, which has neither signed nor ratified the CTBT. The CTBT remains in limbo because those three countries, and a few others, refuse to ratify it.
And another low: if uranium sales to India proceed, it will be the first time since the Cold War that we have sold uranium to a country which is engaged in a nuclear arms race. India and Pakistan have increased the size of their nuclear weapons arsenals by 25-35 per cent over the past year alone. Both continue to develop nuclear-capable missiles. Both are expanding their capacity to produce fissile material. Both refuse to sign or ratify the CTBT.
The India decision marks a low-point in Australia’s international diplomacy. To permit uranium sales with no meaningful commitment by India to curb its weapons program, and to de-escalate the South Asian nuclear arms race, is spineless, irresponsible, dangerous sycophancy.
How low can we go? Plans are in train to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates, probably followed by other undemocratic state in the Middle East. We were planning uranium sales to the Shah of Iran months before his overthrow in 1979. The Middle East has been (and remains) a nuclear hot-spot with numerous covert nuclear weapons programs – successful, aborted, destroyed or ongoing. The Middle East has also seen numerous conventional military strikes and attempted strikes on nuclear plants, in Iraq (several times), Iran, Israel, and most recently Israel’s strike on a suspected reactor site in Syria.
Short of selling uranium deliberately and specifically for weapons production – as we did after World War II – I don’t think its possible for Australian uranium export policy to sink any lower. I suppose we can take some comfort from that. Sort of. Not really.