Australian uranium exports to China to begin

Australia is set to start exporting uranium to China within months after the two countries ratified an agreement on trade in nuclear fuel.

Australia, which holds 40% of the world’s uranium stocks, agreed to supply the nuclear fuel to China in April 2006 when it signed up to a deal that will see its revenues in this sector almost double. Despite massive stocks, Australia currently only produces 23% of total global uranium – partly because of opposition from Australians themselves motivated by safety concerns.

The Australian mining industry welcomed the deal, which it called “both timely and opportune.”

“It really paves the way for the export of Australian uranium and technology and services and so on without compromising Australia’s strict uranium regulatory regime,” said Rob Rawson from the Minerals Council of Australia.

But environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth argue that the deal risks contributing to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, pointing out that four Chinese firms have previously been found guilty of supplying Iran with “missile-related and dual-use nuclear components.”

Foe Australia’s Jim Green said: “The US has acknowledged that China fails to meet basic thresholds in relation to non-proliferation so it is a disgrace that Howard [Australian PM] and Beazley support exporting WMD-feedstock in the form of uranium to China and it is a disgrace that the so-called Safeguards Office fails to inform the parliament about China’s appalling track record of missile and WMD-related exports.”

The Australia-China Nuclear Transfer Agreement and the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement will enable cooperation between the two states on civilian nuclear energy production as well as trade.

“The agreements will enter into force 30 days after ratification,” said Australia’s foreign Alexander Downer as he announced the deal.

“Accordingly, the legal framework for Australian uranium producers to commence exports to China is expected to be in place early in 2007.

“The timing and quantities of exports will be a matter for commercial negotiation,” he said.

Goska Romanowicz

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