March 7, 2013 (Source: The Age) — Australia and India will begin negotiations for the sale of Australian uranium to the subcontinent this month.
Officials from both sides will start the process of hammering out a nuclear safeguards agreement in Delhi on March 19, but it is likely to be two years before a deal is signed and sales begin.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said there was no time frame for talks to be completed.
India will be the first customer for Australian uranium not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It has between 80 and 100 nuclear weapons but has refused to sign the treaty, arguing it discriminates against emerging nations.
India has long expressed a desire for Australian uranium, and Australia’s long-standing refusal to sell it, overturned only last year, was seen as an affront.
But India has stated repeatedly its unwillingness to agree to any measures beyond those it signed up to in previous pacts with the US, Russia and France. This month’s talks are understood to be preliminary, with no firm commitments being offered by either side.
In Delhi late last year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australian uranium would be used only for civilian purposes, feeding India’s growing nuclear power industry.
“We know how to negotiate these agreements because we have done it in the past and we have done it on the basis that Australian uranium is only used for peaceful purposes; that the International Atomic Energy Agency is involved in oversight, and that the nation that we sell uranium to has an appropriate protocol with the IAEA,” she said. India’s civilian nuclear industry is growing rapidly. The number of reactors is expected to rise from 20 to more than 60 over the next decade. By 2050, India plans for more than a quarter of its energy to come from nuclear sources.
But a report by India’s auditor-general has found the nation’s nuclear industry is dangerously undersupervised, with 60 per cent of power plant inspections delayed or never taking place, and many smaller research facilities operating without licences.
In some cases, the fines for nuclear safety transgressions are as low as 500 rupees ($A8.90).
Australia holds about a third of the world’s recoverable uranium resources, and exports nearly 7000 tonnes a year.
Australian uranium is used in civilian nuclear power reactors in the US, Japan, France, Britain, Finland, Sweden, South Korea, China, Belgium, Spain, Canada and Taiwan.