Two cardinal principles have governed international Australian uranium sales since bilateral safeguards conditions were announced by Prime Minister Fraser in May 1977. Apart from the recognised nuclear weapons states, customer countries must have impeccable non nuclear weapons credentials. They must also be members of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty with full-scope IAEA safeguards applying to all their nuclear facilities. India fulfils neither requirement. In the 1950s and 1960s it deceived Ottawa and Washington by using so-called “peaceful” American and Canadian nuclear technology to build nuclear weapons. And it steadfastly refused to join the NPT. Following India’s first “peaceful” nuclear detonation in 1974, it should have been no surprise when it (and Pakistan) embarked on the testing of fully operational nuclear weapons in May 1998. But the Australian government was highly indignant. Howard and his ministers were vehement and patronising. With both countries, defence links and aid programs were suspended, and High Commissioners and some staff were withdrawn to Canberra. Now, however, with Washington’s advice that India is a reformed rogue nuclear state, Howard is happy to override former principles by selling it uranium. In doing so, he is both setting a dangerous precedent, and reducing further the effectiveness of the NPT. Present customers for Australian uranium — not least Japan and the Republic of Korea — may now feel that their uranium supplies from Australia may not be cut off if they flout NPT provisions or walk away from the Treaty altogether. On 26 July, the Treasurer, Peter Costello, claimed that bilateral safeguards arrangements struck with New Delhi would have to be very strict before uranium exports could proceed, and that our uranium could only be used in “civilian” reactors. But there is no way such agreements can be reinforced. India has a vast complex of nearly 50 nuclear facilities. Many of these are dual use, serving both India’s power and weapons programs. Only a small number are covered by full-scope IAEA safeguards. Given India’s past record of deception with the United States and Canadian governments, Australia can have no justifiable confidence that it will honour a bilateral safeguards agreement to use Australian uranium only in designated “civilian” reactors. Even if it does, this will allow the diversion of uranium from other sources to be used in India’s weapons program. Exactly the same conditions apply to Australian uranium sold to China. Send your tips to email@example.com or submit them anonymously here.
The problem with selling uranium to India
Selling uranium to India raises a host questions, not least among them how India will use it, writes former Australian diplomat Richard Broinowski.