An end to Australia’s ban on uranium exports to India would be beneficial to Australia’s economy and jobs, prime minister Julia Gillard has said. The issue will be debated at the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP’s) national conference.
“We will not sell India uranium for peaceful purposes – though Canada is preparing to – while policy allows us to export it to countries such as China, Japan and the United States,” Gillard wrote in an article published by The Age newspaper. She said that it was time that the ALP changed its stance. “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 be used only for peaceful purposes.”
Shortly after taking power in November 2007, Australia’s current Labor-led coalition government announced that the country will not sell uranium to India unless it signs the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), seemingly reversing a decision in principle by the previous Liberal-National (conservative) coalition government. That government, led by John Howard, agreed in August 2007 to export uranium to India provided strict conditions were met. These included: a safeguards agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); India signing an Additional Protocol equivalent; a consensus by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the conclusion of the US-India nuclear trade deal; and, satisfactory progress by India in placing its declared civil nuclear sites under IAEA safeguards.
In a press conference today, Gillard said, “The Labor Party’s current platform prevents us selling uranium to India, because it is not part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I believe the time has come for the Labor Party to change this position. I believe that for three reasons.”
Firstly, Gillard said, exporting uranium to India would be good for the Australian economy. Uranium, she said, currently contributes over A$750 million ($762 million) to the Australian economy, while creating over 4200 jobs. With India planning to generate 40% of its electricity with nuclear energy by 2050, “having access to this new and growing market is good for Australian jobs.”
Secondly, Australia stands to benefit from the economic growth in Asia, she said. “Australia faces a unique set of opportunities in this the Asian century, where we live in the right region of the world which will see strong economic growth and India as a rising giant will be part of that strong economic growth, so put simply, our best possible partnership with India is also good for Australian jobs.”
Additionally, a change over the past few years in the international community’s approach to nuclear cooperation with India means that dropping Australia’s ban on uranium exports now “makes sense.” Gillard noted, “It made sense, the current platform, when there was a widely supported international strategy to bring India into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty … but the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement changed that strategy, it effectively lifted the de-facto international ban on cooperation with India in this area.” She added, “Consequently given that change in diplomatic circumstances around the world, for us to refuse to budge is all pain with no gain and I believe that our national platform should recognize that reality.”
When asked what the arguments were against Australia now using nuclear power if it was willing to supply fuel for India’s reactors, Gillard replied that Australia has “abundant energy sources” and “is not desperate for energy.” She said, “Our energy mix here will be an energy mix that moves so that we have a greater outreach to clean energy sources and renewable energy sources – we don’t need nuclear energy to meet our energy demands.”
Gillard noted that this “significant issue for Australia” will be debated at the Labor Party’s forthcoming national conference in Sydney next month, but she was making her own position on this issue “very clear.”
India’s minister of external affairs, S M Krishna, commented, “We understand that prime minister Gillard proposes to seek a change in Australian Labor Party’s policy on sale of uranium to India, in recognition of our growing energy needs, our impeccable non-proliferation record and the strategic partnership between our two countries. We welcome this initiative.”