Sydney, 17 August: Prime Minister John Howard today defended Australia’s landmark deal to sell uranium to nuclear power India, saying its safeguards were as strong as the international anti-proliferation treaty.
The in-principle deal reached Thursday (17 August) has been widely criticised, as India has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has nuclear weapons.
India is involved in a long-running nuclear stand-off with neighbouring rival Pakistan, leading to fears the uranium could be used to make bombs.
With an election a few months away, Australia’s opposition Labor party has vowed to scrap the deal if it is elected to government.
But Howard’s government insisted it was both environmentally friendly and likely to bring India under more supervision by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Safeguards in the deal would have the same effect as signing the NPT, which is meant to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, Howard said.
“I can assure your listeners that the net effect of our safeguards agreement will be the same,” Howard told national radio.
“It’s a different approach and India has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But we believe that these arrangements will deliver effectively the same outcome.”
There would be a bilateral safeguards agreement, and India would have to enter a similar agreement with the IAEA, Howard said.
“And the sort of conditions that are going to be imposed on India are the same as the conditions that are being imposed on countries like China and Russia and I think also France,” Howard said.
“We’ve been selling uranium to France for many, many years,” Howard said.
The NPT permits five countries, including China, Russia and France, to hold nuclear weapons.
Howard said he would be writing to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh to stress the conditions.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the deal was environmentally friendly, as India was expected to see enormous growth in energy demand in the next few years.
It would also mean some of India’s power plants would now come under UN supervision, he said, and would build up Australia’s relationship with the emerging regional economic powerhouse.
Downer said India did not have a “record of proliferation”, adding it was unrealistic to expect New Delhi to sign the non-proliferation treaty.
“I would rather they did sign the treaty but you have to be realistic about this, if you read the treaty you can see why they won’t sign it, the treaty says there shall only be five nuclear weapons states,” he said.
India would have to abandon its nuclear arsenal first to sign it, he said.
Australia is a major producer of uranium, with some of the world’s largest known deposits in South Australia state.