Canberra: Australia rejected an Indian government plea on Wednesday to reverse its ban on the sale of uranium to New Delhi, but the policy could come up for review at a ruling party conference later this year.
Minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna, visiting Melbourne, asked for the ban to be overturned during a closed-door meeting with Australian resources minister Martin Ferguson.
“The policy of the Australian government is clear - we will only supply uranium to countries that are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have signed a bilateral agreement with Australia,” Ferguson said afterwards.
“This is not a policy specific to India, it applies equally to all countries,” he said.
The ruling Labor Party maintains a ban on uranium sales to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, despite US President Barack Obama last year supporting Indian membership of the 45-nation Nuclear Supplier Group.
The policy was overturned briefly in August 2007 when former conservative leader John Howard agreed in principle to allow uranium exports to India, provided New Delhi signed on to United Nations and Australian safeguard agreements.
Howard lost power to Labor in 2007 and the incoming government of Kevin Rudd immediately overturned the decision, arguing it would pull the rug from under the NPT.
But the policy is expected to come up for review and possibly a vote at a triennial conference of the ruling party and union supporters in December.
Rudd, now foreign minister, meets Krishna on Thursday.
Australia has 40% of the world’s known uranium reserves and is the second biggest supplier after Canada.
The country exported 10,500 tonnes, worth more than A$1 billion, in 2009-10, while the government’s official commodities forcaster has estimated sales will jump to to 14,000 tonnes, worth A$1.7 billion, by 2014.
But Labor has rejected India’s pleas to allow sales of nuclear fuel. Joint secretary Arun K Goel this week said he hoped the government would “revisit” its position.
“In terms of our quest for energy resources, access to uranium supply remains a core issue for us,” he said.
India is looking to secure up to 8,000 tonnes of uranium each year to lift domestic nuclear power supply capability, boost the economy and combat rising greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate shift.
Australia has three operating mines, including the BHP Billiton-owned Olympic Dam in South Australia and the Ranger mine in the Northern Territory, owned by Energy Resources Australia, majority owned by Rio Tinto.
The Beverley Mine in South Australia is owned by US company General Atomics through its Australian subsidiary Heathgate Resources. State governments in South Australia and resources powerhouse Western Australia plan more mines.
India buys uranium from France, Russia and Kazakhstan, and is exploring imports from Mongolia, South Africa and Nigeria.
Krishna last visited Australia in 2009 for emergency talks on a series of much-publicised attacks on Indian students in Victoria state that prompted a shrp decline in student visas.