Today is the 60th anniversary of China’s one-party communist state — a fitting time to consider Australia’s role in supplying China with uranium and the associated impacts of the nuclear industry, within China and in terms of Australia’s non-proliferation commitments.

The expanded Roxby Downs uranium and copper mine being proposed by BHP would see Australia selling uranium-infused bulk copper concentrate for processing in China, transferring more than  one million tonnes a year of radioactive waste and thousands of tonnes of uranium.

In opening up these markets, Australia is abandoning obligations that it has agreed to under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by supplying uranium to a nuclear weapons state that fails to comply with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

China is modernising — rather than eliminating — its nuclear arsenal and has so far failed to ratify the CTBT. On these grounds alone, Australia should not be dealing in uranium to such a state, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Australians should be asking whether it is appropriate to be trading uranium with a one-party state that clearly fails to comply with international human rights obligations and treats dissenting voices within its nuclear industry to forced incarceration.

In Gansu Province in north-west China, a former uranium mine worker and whistleblower Sun Xiaodi and his daughter, Sun Dunbai, are languishing in a forced labour camp since July this year when a Chinese court sentenced them for “criminal acts that endangered state security”.

Their crimes include inciting the public with libellous slogans including “nuclear pollution” and “human rights violation”.

Sun Xiaodi is a former worker at No.792 Uranium Mine, a base of production of nuclear material in Gansu Province. Since 1988 he has repeatedly travelled to Beijing to petition the government to end the corruption that saturates China’s nuclear industry and spoken out for the rights of the mines workers.

If this is how the Chinese government treats workers who dare to speak up, how can Australia conscionably supply uranium — one of the most dangerous substances of earth — to such a country that fails to meet the basic standards of transparency, accountability, democracy and respect for human rights that Australians take for granted.

If we do so, are we not then complicit in nuclear risks and in suppression of human rights in China? Australian uranium will effectively disappear off the safeguards radar on arrival in China — a country where the military is inextricably linked to the civilian nuclear sector.

The first shipment of BHP uranium from the existing Roxby Downs mine has recently left Australian ports — China-bound.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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