Home / Politics / Policy /  India gets Australia boost in efforts to secure uranium

New Delhi: India’s efforts to secure uranium supplies for its fledgling nuclear power industry received a boost on Tuesday with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying that the country should be prepared to sell uranium to India with suitable safeguards.

An agreement on Australia selling uranium to India is expected to be signed during Abbott’s visit to the country later this week. Analysts say the deal will strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Abbott made the comment in an interview to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) two days ahead of his arrival in India.

“If we are prepared to sell uranium to Russia, and we’ve been prepared to do that in the past, surely we ought to be prepared to provide uranium to India under suitable safeguards," he told ABC television. India was a full functioning democracy with the rule of law, he said.

Abbott, who is the first head of state to visit to New Delhi on a bilateral visit since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government took office on 26 May, is expected to be accompanied by trade minister Andrew Robb and an Australian business delegation. Australia’s trade in goods and services with India was $17.68 billion in 2012-13 with Indian exports of goods amounting to $3.59 billion.

It was Abbott’s predecessor Julia Gillard who in 2011 persuaded her Labor government to overturn its long-standing policy of blocking uranium sales to India, which hasn’t signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. India conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998.

Australia has nearly 40% of the world’s known uranium reserves and it has no nuclear power stations. India, one of the fastest growing major economies in the world, is heavily dependent on fuel imports and is seeking to diversify its energy basket to power economic growth.

India has 20 nuclear power reactors with an installed generation capacity of 4,780 MW, minister of state for personnel, public grievances, pensions and the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh, told Parliament in a written reply in June. India aims to upgrade its nuclear power generation capacity to 20,000 MW by 2020.

India has signed bilateral agreements for civil nuclear cooperation with several countries, including Argentina, Namibia, Canada, Kazakhstan, France, Republic of Korea, the Czech Republic, Russia and the US.

Interestingly, India is yet to conclude a pact with Japan for civil nuclear cooperation. Japan has been keen that New Delhi give guarantees on not testing an atomic weapon. The talks began in 2010 after New Delhi signed a landmark pact with the US in 2008 that overturned a 34-year-old ban on India sourcing atomic power plants and knowledge from the international market.

Japan manufactures key components needed to set up a nuclear power plant including the domes of power plants and some critical safety equipment making a pact with Japan critical for India to operationalise civil nuclear power pacts already concluded with other countries.

The two countries didn’t sign this during Modi’s visit to Japan, but experts say they are now a step closer to doing so.

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