There were two stories from yesterday’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties report on the Australia-India Nuclear Co-operation Agreement, designed to established a framework in which Australia could sell uranium to India, which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The correct story, which both the ABC and AAP reported, was that the committee report places a number of significant obstacles in the way of of uranium sales to India, recommending that sales only commence once five conditions have been met. They are:
- “India has achieved the full separation of civil and military nuclear facilities as verified by the IAEA;
- “India has established an independent nuclear regulatory authority under law;
- “the Indian nuclear regulator’s existing policies and arrangements have been reviewed to ensure its independence;
- “the frequency, quality and comprehensiveness of onsite inspections at nuclear facilities have been verified by the IAEA as being best practice standard; and
- “the lack of sufficient planning for the decommissioning of nuclear facilities has been rectified.”
India should also be encouraged to sign up to the comprehensive test ban treaty, the report said.
True, the report refers to potential growth of 3800 jobs in the uranium mining industry. But that number is sourced from the Minerals Council of Australia (next campaign: uranium is amazing!). And it’s garbage. The Minerals Council claims there are currently 4200 people employed in uranium mining in Australia. In fact, the number is less than a thousand, according to an independent market research report: just 987 Australians mine uranium. The Minerals Council, evidently, is playing the same sort of game in which it claims the coal mining sector employs hundreds of thousands of Australians, when the current number, according to the ABS, is below 40,000. But even if we accept the Minerals Council’s lie about employment, uranium mining would still be less than 4% of the (tiny) mining workforce.
What the report also ignores is that nuclear power is nothing like the growth industry hucksters would have us believe. There are fewer nuclear power stations under construction now than five years ago; the great bulk of them are delayed (mammoth delays and budget blowouts are standard for nuclear power construction). Nuclear power’s share of global energy production is stable and at its lowest level since 1984; the price of uranium oxide is nearly half the price it was in 2010, reflecting oversupply, and China holding huge stockpiles of uranium (and the price would fall further if Australia doubled its production); between 2013 and 2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency more than halved its growth forecasts for global nuclear power capacity, including India, to 8% between now and 2030. The current estimate for growth in uranium demand from the OECD is between 20% and 105% — at the most wildly optimistic end of forecasts — by 2035.
Despite citing the Minerals Council uncritically, it seems JSCOT understands the reality of uranium mining — it’s a niche, low-growth industry on which it’s not worth wrecking the non-proliferation credentials we’ve spent decades developing.