November 19, 2013

Australia to export Uranium to India with weaker safeguards?

Australia's three active uranium mines are Ranger (Northern Territory) Olympic Dam (South Australia) and also Beverley (South Australia).

Julie Bishop, Australia's new Foreign Minister
Australia and India will hold the third round of their civil nuclear cooperation talks on November 26-27, 2013 - so what happened - any news? This should lead to a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between Australia and India. The main area of cooperation will be the export of Australian uranium to India. The uranium is exported in the form of uranium concentrate powder which is yellow in colour (hence called "yellowcake"). In chemical terms yellowcake is about 80% uranium oxide.

India is in the unique position of being a broadly endorsed de facto Nuclear Weapons State that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The nuclear weapons status of other non-signatories to the NPT (that is Israel, Pakistan and North Korea) is not as internationally endorsed as India's status.

This anomaly is due to India being a great power that could not (due to its colonial status in 1944-45) become an original permanent member (P5) of the UN Security Council (UNSC). India has not (yet) been accepted as a 6th permanent member of the UNSC and may not be as too many other countries (eg. Germany, Japan, Italy, Brazil) are seeking "P" status.

P5 status is mainly based on international acceptance that a country is legitimately a great power. Nuclear weapon ownership is but one aspect of great power status. These nuclear weapons legitimacy arguments are along realist-power-political theoretical lines rather than idealised international legal ("all countries are equal") lines.

As a non-P5 power India effectively did not qualify to become an official Nuclear Weapon State under the NPT. It should be remembered that the P5 great powers organised the NPT (with its rather arbitrary exploded nuclear weapon before 1967 requirement) to make themselves the only legal Nuclear Weapons States.

India's more recent great power status and prominence as a nuclear commerce customer effectively qualifies it in the eyes of Russia, France the US and UK to be a de facto Nuclear Weapons State.

India's non-signatory status regarding the NPT and likelihood some Uranium imports might find their way into India's nuclear weapons program makes for the unusual regulatory and technical problems. The main regulatory problem is that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is mainly tasked with preventing non-Nuclear Weapons States from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

It is rather pointless for the IAEA to attempt to apply non-Nuclear Weapons State rules to India when India already has nuclear weapons.

The following article is by Stephanie March from ABC Online, dated November 19, 2013

Nuclear deal: Australia's uranium deal with India may include  weaker monitoring safeguards

Australia's agreement to sell uranium to India could include weaker monitoring safeguards than the nuclear deals Australia has with other countries.
A third round of nuclear cooperation agreement talks are due to take place later this month and both governments say they want the deal settled quickly.

In the past, Australia has required countries to which it sells uranium to track the material more closely than is required by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Andrew Davies from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says the IAEA tracks aggregate quantities of uranium but does not monitor exactly where uranium sent to India from Australia ends up.
"For example, if 100 tonnes goes into a civilian nuclear program and 90 tonnes of product comes out, they don't know where the missing product was diverted from," he said.

The ABC understands India says it does not have the capacity to provide additional monitoring beyond what is required by the IAEA.

Speaking in New Delhi, Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, told the ABC she was reluctant to comment on the talks while they were underway. "I am not going to get ahead of the negotiations and consider hypotheticals," she said. "We have our negotiating team coming here shortly and I am confident that we will be able to conclude an agreement that satisfies Australian standards," she said.

When asked if she could guarantee the agreement would be as strong as Australia's other nuclear cooperation agreements, Ms Bishop said "we will always act in Australia's national interests".

Relations between Australia and India soured when the Rudd-government cancelled plans to sell uranium to India as it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Gillard government reversed that position in a move supported by the Coalition. India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and only in recent years started taking steps to separate its military and civilian nuclear programs. Last year, a report from the Indian auditor-general found the country's nuclear safety regulator was weak and unable to properly monitor the industry.

Ms Bishop says Australia will support India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group."


Several press articles are significant: "New Delhi, Nov. 19, 2013: Australia has decided to unconditionally support India’s aspirations to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, nudging New Delhi closer to membership of the powerful 48-member cartel of nations that controls all nuclear trade"

A December 4, 2013 report "[New South Wales State Premier Barry] O’Farrell, who is in India to promote trade and investment opportunities in his state, assume significance because New South Wales [Australia] recently overturned a decades-old ban on uranium exploration and mining. The change has fuelled hopes that the state, whose capital is Sydney, may eventually become one of the main suppliers to India."

- also and


- "India 'expands nuclear weapons site"
December 5, 2013

India's Economic Times has a useful sequence of earlier articles on Australia-India nuclear cooperation, including: just prior to the Third Round of talks, on the Second Round of talks, and

see the lower left side-bar of Economic Times for additional Australia-India articles.


david g said...

That India has nukes already is not the best news I've read today.

After the nuclear meltdown in Japan following the Tsunami, the whole business of dealing with nuclear power and its offshoot, nuclear weapons, seems too risky for mere humans.

Children playing with matches and petrol comes to mind!

Pete said...

Hi David G

Yes its unfortunate that most nuclear reactors are in natural disaster prone countries including the US, China, Japan, Pakistan, India, Canada, South Korea, Iran. Things get worse when nuclear or conventional war is added.

India probably started its nuclear weapons effort mainly as a counter to nuclear armed China. Then countering a nuclear armed Pakistan became a priority. None of these three countries will disarm until the major nuclear armed countries (including Israel) do - which is probably never.