Ukraine – India – Russia – China – United Arab Emirates – South Korea – Japan
Uranium sales to Ukraine
- Australian yellowcake fuels Ukrainian fires
- Friends of the Earth submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
- Friends of the Earth supplementary submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
Uranium sales to India
- Former safeguards office director John Carlson’s critique of Australia-India uranium agreement
- Proposed uranium sales to India – detailed 2010 EnergyScience Coalition briefing paper (PDF)
- The Lowy Institute’s disgraceful propaganda campaign in relation to uranium sales to India
- Friends of the Earth media articles about uranium sales to India
- US-India ageement (PDF) – Joint Australian NGO statement
- Trashing nuclear promises (US – India nuclear deal), Tilman Ruff, 2008 article
- The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy in India (Gem Romuld)
- India’s nuclear power failures warn against uranium exports (M.V. Ramana)
Uranium sales to Russia
- Joint Standing Committee on Treaties rejects uranium sales to Russia – Report #94 or click here for direct download (PDF)
- Uranium Sales to Russia (PDF file) (FoE Submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, June 2008)
- Parliamentary Committee Rejects Howard/Putin Agreement
- Treaties Committee rejects Russia uranium agreement (2008 Online Opinion article)
- Should we be selling uranium still to Russia? Dave Sweeney, 4 August 2014
- Can Russia be trusted with our uranium? Jim Green, March 22, 2010, Fairfax ‘National Times’ websites
Uranium sales to China
- Collection of articles about uranium sales to China
- Joint Standing Committee on Treaties approval for uranium exports to China
Uranium sales to United Arab Emirates
- Article by Dr Rodger Shanahan
- SMH article by Dave Sweeney, ACF – May 2013
- Friends of the Earth submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties – May 2013
- Joint Standing Committee on Treaties – Treaties Tables 12 March 2013
Uranium sales to South Korea
Uranium sales to Japan
Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima
Jim Green and David Noonan, The Ecologist, 9 March 2021
The Fukushima nuclear disaster was fuelled by Australian uranium but lessons have not been learned and the uranium industry ‒ aided and abetted by the national government ‒ continues to fuel global insecurity with irresponsible uranium export policies.
Fukushima was an avoidable disaster, fuelled by Australian uranium and the hubris and profiteering of Japan’s nuclear industry in collusion with compromised regulators and captured bureaucracies.
The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission ‒ established by the Japanese Parliament ‒ concluded in its 2012 report that the accident was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” if not for “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11”.
The accident was the result of “collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO”, the Commission found.
But overseas suppliers who turned a blind eye to unacceptable nuclear risks in Japan have largely escaped scrutiny or blame. Australia’s uranium industry is a case in point.
Yuki Tanaka from the Hiroshima Peace Institute noted: “Japan is not the sole nation responsible for the current nuclear disaster. From the manufacture of the reactors by GE to provision of uranium by Canada, Australia and others, many nations are implicated.”
There is no dispute that Australian uranium was used in the Fukushima reactors. The mining companies won’t acknowledge that fact — instead they hide behind claims of “commercial confidentiality” and “security”.
But the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office acknowledged in October 2011 that: “We can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors — maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them”.
BHP and Rio Tinto, two of the world’s largest mining companies, supplied Australian uranium to TEPCO and that uranium was used to fuel Fukushima.
The mining companies have failed to take any responsibility for the catastrophic impacts on Japanese society that resulted from the use of their uranium in a poorly managed, poorly regulated industry.
They can’t claim ignorance
Moreover, the mining companies can’t claim ignorance. The warning signs were clear. Australia’s uranium industry did nothing as TEPCO and other Japanese nuclear companies lurched from scandal to scandal and accident to accident.
The uranium industry did nothing in 2002 when it was revealed that TEPCO had systematically and routinely falsified safety data and breached safety regulations for 25 years or more.
The uranium industry did nothing in 2007 when over 300 incidents of ‘malpractice’ at Japan’s nuclear plants were revealed (104 of them at nuclear power plants).
It did nothing even as the ability of Japan’s nuclear plants to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis came under growing criticism from industry insiders and independent experts.
And the uranium industry did nothing about the multiple conflicts of interest plaguing Japanese nuclear regulators.
Mirarr senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula ‒ on whose land in the Northern Territory Rio Tinto’s Ranger uranium mine operated ‒ said she was “deeply saddened” that uranium from Ranger was exported to Japanese nuclear power companies including TEPCO.
No such humility from the uranium companies. They get tetchy at any suggestion of culpability, with the Australian Uranium Association describing it as “opportunism in the midst of human tragedy” and “utter nonsense”.
Yet, Australia could have played a role in breaking the vicious cycle of mismanagement in Japan’s nuclear industry by making uranium exports conditional on improved management of nuclear plants and tighter regulation.
Even a strong public statement of concern would have been heard by the Japanese utilities (unless it was understood to be rhetoric for public consumption) and it would have registered in the Japanese media.
But the industry stuck its head in the sand
But the uranium industry denied culpability and instead stuck its head in the sand. Since the industry is in denial about its role in fuelling the Fukushima disaster, there is no reason to believe that it will behave more responsibly in future.
Successive Australian governments did nothing about the unacceptable standards in Japan’s nuclear industry. Julia Gillard ‒ Australia’s Prime Minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster ‒ said the disaster “doesn’t have any impact on my thinking about uranium exports”.
Signification elements of Japan’s corrupt ‘nuclear village’ ‒ comprising industry, regulators, politicians and government agencies ‒ were back in control just a few years after the Fukushima disaster. Regulation remains problematic.
Add to that ageing reactors, and companies facing serious economic stress and intense competition, and there’s every reason for ongoing concern about nuclear safety in Japan.
Professor Yoshioka Hitoshi, a Kyushu University academic who served on the government’s 2011-12 Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations, said in October 2015:
“Unfortunately, the new regulatory regime is … inadequate to ensure the safety of Japan’s nuclear power facilities. The first problem is that the new safety standards on which the screening and inspection of facilities are to be based are simply too lax.
“While it is true that the new rules are based on international standards, the international standards themselves are predicated on the status quo.
“They have been set so as to be attainable by most of the reactors already in operation. In essence, the NRA made sure that all Japan’s existing reactors would be able to meet the new standards with the help of affordable piecemeal modifications ‒ back-fitting, in other words.”
Fuelling global insecurity
In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon called for an independent cost-benefit inquiry into uranium trade. The Australian government failed to act.
Inadequate regulation was a root cause of the Fukushima disaster yet Australia has uranium supply agreements with numerous countries with demonstrably inadequate nuclear regulation, including China, India, Russia, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Ukraine.
Likewise, Australian uranium companies and the government turn a blind eye to nuclear corruption scandals in countries with uranium supply agreements: South Korea, India, Russia and Ukraine among others.
Uranium sales to India, UAE, Ukraine
Indeed, Australia has signed up to expand its uranium trade to sell into insecure regions.
In 2011 ‒ the same year as the Fukushima disaster ‒ the Australian government agreed to to allow uranium exports to India.
This despite inadequate nuclear regulation in India, and despite India’s ongoing expansion of its nuclear weaponry and delivery capabilities.
A uranium supply agreement with the United Arab Emirates was concluded in 2013 despite the obvious risks of selling uranium into a politically and militarily volatile region where nuclear facilities have repeatedly been targeted by adversaries intent on stopping covert nuclear weapons programs. Australia was planning uranium sales to the Shah of Iran months before his overthrow in 1979.
A uranium supply agreement with Ukraine was concluded in 2016 despite a host of safety and security concerns, and the inability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out safeguards inspections in regions annexed by Russia. (In 2014, Australia banned uranium sales to Russia, with then Prime Minister Tony Abbott stating: “Australia has no intention of selling uranium to a country which is so obviously in breach of international law as Russia currently is.”)
Australia’s uranium supply agreement with China, concluded in 2006, has not been reviewed despite abundant evidence of inadequate nuclear safety standards, inadequate regulation, lack of transparency, repression of whistleblowers, world’s worst insurance and liability arrangements, security risks, and widespread corruption.
Civil society and NGO’s are campaigning to wind back Australia’s atomic exposures in the uranium trade with emphasis on uranium sales to China.
China’s human rights abuses and a range of strategic insecurity issues warrant a cessation of uranium sales. China’s ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet and mass detention and forced labour against Uyghurs in Xinjiang are severe breaches of international humanitarian law and UN Treaties.
A federal Parliamentary Inquiry in Australia is investigating forced labour in China and the options for Australia to respond. A case is before this Inquiry to disqualify China from supply of Australian uranium sales (see submission 02 on human rights abuses and submission 02.1 on security risks).
Weapons proliferation risks
Australia supplies uranium with scant regard for nuclear safety risks. Likewise, proliferation risks are given short shrift.
Australia has 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 to pursue disarmament in good faith.
Australia claims to be working to discourage countries from producing fissile (explosive) material for nuclear bombs, but nonetheless exports uranium to countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
And Australia gives Japan open-ended permission to separate and stockpile plutonium although that stockpiling fans regional proliferation risks and tensions in North-East Asia.
An industry in decline
Despite liberal export policies, Australian uranium sales are in long-term decline and now represent only 8.9 percent of world uranium usage.
With the Ranger mine shut down and no longer processing ore for uranium exports, there are only two operating uranium mines in Australia: BHP’s Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine and the smaller General Atomics’ Beverley Four Mile operation ‒ both in South Australia.
Uranium accounts for less than 0.3 percent of Australia’s export revenue and less than 0.1 percent of all jobs in Australia.
One wonders why an industry that delivers so little is given carte blanche by the government to do as it pleases.
Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia. David Noonan is an independent environment campaigner.
How low can Australia go with uranium export policy?
Jim Green, 9 December 2011, Online Opinion
How low can Australia go with uranium export policy? 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 states 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.
Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and author of a detailed briefing paper on uranium sales to India.
A Year Of Nuclear Bungles
Jim Green, 19 Dec 2012, New Matilda
The nuclear industry inflicts far more damage on itself than its opponents could ever hope to. The mere mention of the easily-preventable Fukushima disaster probably suffices to establish that point, but there are many more examples. To make the task manageable, this snapshot of recent nuclear shenanigans, jiggery-pokery, goings-on and own-goals is restricted to countries that Australia sells uranium to (or plans to sell uranium to).
Tests carried out at the European Union’s 143 nuclear power reactors have exposed hundreds of problems requiring up to €25 billion (AU$31 billion) to remedy, according to a report by the EU energy commissioner. The report concludes that “practically all” plants need safety improvements.
Gee-whiz “next generation” power reactors in Finland and France continue to embarrass the industry. When the contract was signed in 2003 for a new “European Pressurized Reactor” (EPR) in Finland, completion was anticipated in 2009. Now, commercial operation is not anticipated until 2015 — six years behind schedule. The estimated cost ballooned from €3 billion to €6.4 billion, and up again to €8 billion (AU$10 billion). Peter Atherton, utilities analyst at Citigroup, said: “There are few companies in the world that can take a loss of that size and remain solvent.”
EDF’s Flamanville 3 EPR reactor in northern France is also behind schedule — it was originally meant to enter service in 2012 but that date has been pushed back to 2016. Its estimated cost has grown from €3.3 billion to €8 billion, and up again to €8.5 billion. Italian utility Enel recently pulled out of the project, prompting UBS analyst Per Lekander to say: “In a way, the last 24 hours have killed French nuclear finally because the cost makes it totally impossible to export and now you have one of the few partners actively withdrawing; it looks really bad.”
In November, a report by the UK National Audit Office said that nuclear waste stored in run-down buildings at the Sellafield nuclear complex poses an “intolerable risk“, and that costs of plant decommissioning have spiralled out of control. In the same month, UK government agencies filed nine charges against the owners of Sellafield for illegal dumping of radioactive waste.
The National Audit Office estimates the total future costs for decommissioning Sellafield, over a century or so, will be £67 billion (AU$103 billion) — well up from the 2009 estimate of £47 billion (AU$72 billion). Estimates of the clean up costs for a range of UK nuclear sites including Sellafield have jumped from a 2005 estimate of £56 billion (AU$86 billion) to over £100 billion.
In South Korea, five engineers were charged with covering up a potentially dangerous power failure at the Kori-I reactor in May. The accident occurred because of a failure to follow safety procedures. The manager of the reactor decided to conceal the incident and to delete records, despite a legal obligation to notify the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.
In early November, the South Korean government shut down two reactors at Yeonggwang to replace thousands of parts that had been supplied with forged quality and safety warranties. Plant owner Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) has acknowledged possible bribery and collusion by KHNP officials as well as corruption by firms supplying reactor parts. In late November there were further revelations and the current total stands at 8601 reactor parts, 10 firms and six reactors. Inadequate and compromised regulation has been a key contributor to the problems in South Korea’s nuclear industry — just as it was a key factor behind the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
South Korea wants to develop uranium enrichment technology (a direct route to nuclear weapons material) in violation of its commitments under the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
In Sweden, problems with back-up generators have forced two reactors off-line. One of the reactors had only just restarted after over a year out of service following problems with the turbine system and damage to the reactor vessel. The Swedish Nuclear Safety Authority has uncovered a deficit of at least €3.4 billion in the Swedish Nuclear Waste Fund.
The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) — established by the Japanese Parliament — has lifted the lid on the widespread corruption that led to the Fukushima disaster. The report states that the accident was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” if not for “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11”. The accident was the result of “collusion between the government, the regulators and [plant operator] TEPCO”.
The NAIIC report is equally scathing about the response to the disaster: “Insufficient evacuation planning led to many residents receiving unnecessary radiation exposure. Others were forced to move multiple times, resulting in increased stress and health risks — including deaths among seriously ill patients.” The report notes that most of the 150,000 evacuees from the nuclear disaster are still dislocated and they “continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of families, disruption of their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the environment.”
Australia fuels proliferation tensions in North Asia by allowing Japan open ended permission to separate and stockpile weapons-useable plutonium produced from Australian uranium. The issue has resurfaced in recent months thanks to Japan’s nuclear hawks. Former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba put it bluntly: “Having nuclear plants shows to other nations that Japan can make nuclear weapons.”
Last year, US President Obama told a nuclear security summit: “We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we are trying to keep away from terrorists.” Yet Australia gives open ended permission to Japan to separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel and to stockpile it.
India’s comptroller and auditor-general, Vinod Rai, has found that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board is ineffective and negligent. He found that 60 per cent of regulatory inspections for operating nuclear power reactors were either delayed or not undertaken at all. Smaller radiation facilities operate with no oversight at all. Existing legislation gives the board almost no punitive power.
Meanwhile, the Indian government continues to attack and murder citizens opposing nuclear power plants; to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal and its missile capabilities; and to thumb its nose at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Nuclear security remains very poor and corruption is widespread.
Diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Beijing raise serious concerns about safety in China’s nuclear industry. Cables say that cheap, old technology is “vastly increasing” risks. Professor He Zuoxiu, who helped to develop China’s nuclear weapons program, warns about the pace of China’s nuclear power program: “Are we really ready for this kind of giddy speed? I think not — we’re seriously underprepared, especially on the safety front.” Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences warn that China lacks a fully independent safety and regulatory agency and that risks are further increased by shortages of qualified staff.
The first consignment of uranium from Australia has arrived in Russia following the 2010 ratification of a uranium supply agreement. Unfortunately, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards inspections of Australian uranium (and its by-products) will be rare if indeed any inspections take place at all. In 2008, Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties concluded that: “It is essential that actual physical inspection by the IAEA occurs at any Russian sites that may handle [Australian Obligated Nuclear Materials]. Further, the supply of uranium to Russia should be contingent upon such inspections being carried out.” The Gillard Government ignored the recommendation and ratified the agreement.
In the United States, the New York Times reports that security guards at a nuclear weapons plant who failed to stop an 82-year-old nun from reaching a bomb fuel storage building were also cheating on a “security knowledge test”. At least 99 nuclear accidents — resulting in the loss of human life and/or more than US$50,000 (AU$47,000) of property damage — occurred worldwide between 1952 and 2009. Most of them — 56 out of 99 — occurred in the US.
In August, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced the suspension of all reactor licensing decisions until political and legal disputes regarding high level nuclear waste management are resolved. Former NRC commissioner Peter Bradford said that “the reactors awaiting construction licenses weren’t going to be built anytime soon … Falling demand, cheaper alternatives and runaway nuclear costs had doomed their near-term prospects”. Over AU$10 billion and over 20 years effort was wasted on plans for a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, before the scandal-plagued project was cancelled by the Obama Administration in 2009.
All these shenanigans would be a great laugh if they took place in, say, a Bureau de Change. But the nuclear industry brings with it immense risks: catastrophic accidents and WMD proliferation (and nuclear warfare has the potential to cause catastrophic climate change as well as killing millions directly).
Selling WMD feedstock (in the form of uranium) to dictatorships, crooks, murderers and proliferators is a mug’s game. Just ask BHP Billiton — the world’s largest mining company has disbanded its Uranium Division, cancelled the Olympic Dam mine expansion (citing the depressed uranium price), and sold the Yeelirrie uranium deposit in WA for less than 7 per cent of the nominal value of the uranium resource.
Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.
Nuclear ambitions must put safety first
Dave Sweeney, 30 October 2015, Fairfax
It’s now three years since then-Premier Campbell Newman back-flipped on a ‘crystal clear’ commitment and opened the door for the uranium industry in Queensland. The decision, made without consultation, evidence or any independent analysis was explained on the basis of a potential uranium sales deal with India.
Since this time – and to their considerable credit – the re-elected Labor government has reinstated the state’s long-standing and popular ban on uranium mining.
As the uranium lobbyists and former LNP mines minister Andrew Cripps continue to beat the radioactive drum it is useful to look at the risks and roadblocks that mean there will be no smooth passage to India for any Australian uranium.
In September the federal Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties completed a detailed examination of the proposed sales deal and its implications. Despite strong personal support for the sales plan by then PM Tony Abbot the government controlled committee took a far more considered and cautious approach.
The committee’s report identified a range of serious and unresolved nuclear safety, security and regulatory concerns with the proposed sales deal – as well as questioning its uncertain legal basis.
The cross party committee further recommended no uranium sales take place at this time or under the current terms of the Australia-India Nuclear Co-operation Agreement and outlined a series of pre-conditions that need to resolved before any future sales to India.
These include the full separation of military and civil nuclear facilities, the establishment of an independent nuclear regulatory authority, a review of the adequacy and independence of the regulatory framework, IAEA verification that inspections of nuclear facilities are of best practice standard, improved decommissioning planning and more.
So far, all well and good: a contested sales plan with significant national and regional risks has been reviewed by Parliament and been found wanting with a prescription of much more work required.
The question now is whether Malcolm Turnbull will respect and reflect JSCOT’s recommendations. And there is added concern because right now Trade Minister Andrew Robb is touring India.
In Abu Dhabi in April last year Australia inked a uranium supply deal with the United Arab Emirates, even though a series of recommendations from a separate JSCOT inquiry had not been realised at the time of signing. It was Trade Minister Robb’s hand that signed the paper for the fast-tracked deal.
It took a further seven months before the government’s rationale for this unseemly haste was disclosed to the federal Parliament. In a clear case of prioritising nuclear interests ahead of national interest the primary driver for the deal was to provide “certainty to Australian uranium producers who operate in a competitive international market”.
This short-circuiting of due process and accountability cannot be repeated in relation to the proposed Indian uranium deal. The stakes are simply too high.
The agreement with India weakens many of Australia’s nuclear safeguards and standards and opens the door for Australian uranium to find its way into Indian weapons. If the uranium sales agreement is advanced there will also be sustained pressure for Australia to apply equally inadequate standards to other uranium customer countries.
It would create a dangerous and irresponsible precedent for Australia’s already risky uranium exports and could lead to increased pressure on Queensland and other reluctant states over uranium mining.
In 2012 a review of the Indian nuclear sector by the Indian Auditor General found profound failures in safety, governance and regulation and warned of “a Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster if the nuclear safety issue is not addressed”. In the shadow of the continuing – and Australian uranium-fuelled – Fukushima nuclear crisis there are compelling reasons not to supply uranium to India.
As it currently stands the proposed Indian agreement puts no constraints on India’s nuclear weapons program, fails to advance non-proliferation outcomes and doesn’t even provide effective scrutiny of Australian uranium.
Australia, including Queensland, clearly has a key role to play in supporting India’s legitimate energy aspirations. But this cannot and must not be advanced by a retreat from responsibility on nuclear safeguards and security. Malcolm Turnbull should pay heed to the findings of the JSCOT report and not be rushed by those with poor track records and overt atomic agendas.
Dave Sweeney is a nuclear-free campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.