Melbourne: Australia may sell uranium to India despite New Delhi not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if Canberra approves a submission from foreign affairs minister of Australia, Alexander Downer.
Downer will ask the cabinet to approve the export of Australian uranium to India in a submission to be considered by the government within weeks, a leading Australian daily reported.
The newspaper, quoting sources, said that cabinet’s National Security Committee will shortly consider a submission from Downer that would allow Australia to sell uranium to India despite the nation not being a signatory to the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The move, which has been strongly backed by the Austrlian prime minister, John Howard, will almost certainly be opposed by federal Labor and create a wedge between John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd ahead of the federal election.
Labor has traditionally argued that selling uranium to India would undermine the NPT.
The Government believes the politics of this position will become increasingly difficult for Rudd, who will be seen as standing against India, the US and the Australian uranium industry, which would profit from the burgeoning Indian market, the newspaper reported.
The prime minister is reported to have told colleagues that the public cannot understand why Australia exports uranium to China but refuses to export it to India, it said.
India has an impeccable record of never having proliferated nuclear technology to anybody else, but China has been accused of complicity in the exporting of nuclear technology.
India desperately needs assured supplies of uranium to provide fuel for nuclear reactors that will generate energy to drive its economic boom.
The 14 nuclear power plants used for peaceful purposes in India contribute only 4% a year to the country’s electricity needs.
But there are plans for a massive increase in atomic power generation aimed at reducing India’s reliance on polluting fossil fuels and generating electricity to drive factories.
The daily said that Downer’s submission has been finalized but has been awaiting the outcome of long-running negotiations on a nuclear deal between the US and India.
The pact now has to be approved by US Congress, while India needs to get clearances from the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations that govern global civilian nuclear trade and also conclude an agreement to place its civilian reactors under UN safeguards.
But Canberra will not need to wait for full ratification by the US Senate and Indian parliament to proceed.
Australia plans to negotiate a nuclear safeguards agreement with India, governing the uses for Australian uranium, it said.
The agreement will be similar to the deals it has struck with other nations to which it exports uranium.
Under the planned agreement, India would separate its peaceful nuclear energy programme from its nuclear weapons programme and Australian uranium would go only to its peaceful nuclear energy power plants.
Exporting uranium to India would be a substantial change of policy for Canberra, which has until now refused to sell uranium to nations that are not in the NPT.