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Australian government green-lights yellowcake sales to India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dave Sweeney − Nuclear-Free Campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation

Civil society groups have condemned the Australian federal government's recent completion of contested uranium supply deals with both the United Arab Emirates and India.

The deal is in direct conflict with a finding in September by a government-controlled Parliamentary review that "Australian uranium not be sold to India" until unresolved safety, security, legal and nuclear weapons issues were addressed.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) recommended that no uranium sales take place at this time or under the current terms of the Australia-India Nuclear Co-operation Agreement.

It further argued that uranium must not be sold to India until key checks and balances including evidence of improved safety, monitoring and regulatory standards, the establishment of an independent Indian nuclear regulator and full separation of the military and civil dimensions of India's nuclear sector were put in place.

Despite this clear call for caution only two months later in late November the federal government issued a response that "the Government does not accept the Committee's recommendation that exports of uranium to India should be deferred" and further announced that all formalities had been completed so that 'uranium exports can begin immediately'.

The development, which was only briefly in the mainstream Australian media, drew anger from environment, faith, public health and peace groups who described the fast-tracking of uranium sales as a derelict and dangerous move that puts nuclear interests ahead of the national interest.

In the shadow of the Australian uranium-fuelled Fukushima nuclear disaster the countries under-performing but politically favoured uranium sector is under increased scrutiny and pressure with production rates, employment and share value all declining.

With both the industry and federal government now seeking to fast track new sales Australia increasingly risks being globally regarded as an irresponsible supplier of one of the riskiest substances on the planet, providing the source material for nuclear power, weapons and waste without proper scrutiny and against the recommendations of its own review processes.

Critics of the new sales deal have highlighted that India is actively expanding its nuclear arsenal and weapons capabilities through missile tests, increased uranium enrichment capacity and work around multiple weapons launch platforms, including advancing improved submarine launch capabilities.

The newly approved uranium sales treaty places no practical, political or perception barrier to any of these activities. Instead it effectively gives a green light to India's nuclear weapons ambitions.

This cavalier approach is not in the best interests of Australia or the region and undermines both collective safety and Australia's domestic legal and existing international treaty obligations, particularly under the provisions of the 1985 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (the Treaty of Rarotonga).

Australia clearly has a role to play in providing clean energy solutions to assist in meeting India's energy aspirations, especially given the large number of rural poor remain living in energy poverty.

Using Australian expertise to facilitate India's renewable sector would allow the country to leapfrog the dangerous and dirty old energy sources that threaten public health and regional stability and provide fast, flexible and secure power that keeps village lights on and global Geiger counters off.

In fast-tracking poorly considered uranium sales and ignoring the non-partisan advice of its own expert parliamentary committee the government of new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has failed its first nuclear test and set itself up for escalated community contest on nuclear issues.