Having given commitments in the federal election to strengthen nuclear safeguards and to take up a leadership role on nuclear disarmament – why are Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith moving to implement the previous Liberal government’s flawed plan for uranium sales to Russia?

The proposed treaty for uranium sales to Russia was signed by then Prime Minister John Howard and by Russian President Vladimir Putin at APEC in Sydney in 2007 and has been brought before a Federal Parliamentary Inquiry by the new ALP government. This Russian treaty represents former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer’s terms of nuclear trade, the same set of inadequate and hazardous nuclear arrangements that were applied by the Liberal’s to uranium sales to undemocratic China, and is now on offer by Labor to Putin’s Russia.

The Inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties is tasked to decide if the treaty is in Australia’s national interest and will take evidence from witnesses at a Hearing in Melbourne on Monday 28 July — including from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

ACF considers this treaty will unacceptably weaken Australia’s policy and practice on nuclear safeguards, will compromise PM Kevin Rudd’s new International Commission on Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament, and will make Australia complicit in the serious failings of the non transparent and unaccountable Russian state — where the rule of law, democratic values and human rights are not being observed.

We can not have confidence in claimed nuclear safety, safeguards or environmental protection in Putin’s Russia: as nuclear whistle blowers are suppressed and jailed; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has only a very limited and voluntary role; the military is still inextricably linked to the so called civilian nuclear industry; and Australia will rely on a book keeping safeguards exercise conducted from Canberra on trust with Russian nuclear agencies.

In conflict with ALP election policy commitments the proposed Russian nuclear treaty unacceptably provides for:

  • “Substitution” of Australian Obligated Nuclear Materials (AONM) by materials from other sources held at other locations, without then safeguarding the original Australian material;
  • management of AONM in non-IAEA safeguarded and military run facilities; and
  • the elevation of commercial and foreign government nuclear interests over safeguards under the new Federal Government’s watch.

We can guarantee that Australia’s uranium will contribute to nuclear risks in Russia, will produce plutonium in Russian nuclear reactors, and will become high-level nuclear waste — a serious unresolved problem for all future generations to have to manage.

Australia should not sell uranium to nuclear weapon states — like Russia — that fail to comply with their nuclear disarmament obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Russia maintains the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and is developing new weapons delivery systems.

ACF welcomes Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, however we believe those efforts would be seriously compromised by Australian uranium sales to states that do not fully comply with their NPT obligations. A new bilateral treaty with Russia to enable exactly that would seriously jeopardise the aims of the new Nuclear Non-Proliferation & Disarmament Commission.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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