SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday that he hoped to sign a deal this week to sell uranium to India for peaceful power generation, but halted uranium exports to Russia over Moscow's role in Ukraine.
Work on an India-Australia agreement has been underway since Australia, which has 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves, lifted a long-standing ban on selling uranium to energy-starved India in 2012. Nuclear-armed India and Australia have been working on a ‘safeguards’ agreement since then to ensure any uranium exports from Australia are used purely for peaceful purposes.
“I am hoping to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement that will enable uranium sales by Australia to India,” Abbott told parliament in Canberra. India faces chronic shortages of electricity, and a quarter of its billion-plus population has no little or no access to power. Two thirds of India's power supplies come from burning coal, and it is keen to shift the balance towards nuclear over the next few years.
Canberra had previously refused to sell nuclear material to India because it had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Asked what steps had been taken to ensure there were appropriate safeguards, Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the government had “satisfied ourselves that the steps are in place.”
"The negotiations and work that's gone on between authorities in India and Australia have gone on for some years to develop a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement which meets the international requirements and we are satisfied, our officials are satisfied, that all the requirements have been met,” Robb told ABC radio.
Australia's decision to overturn it long-standing ban on uranium sales to India followed a US agreement to support the ‘civil’ nuclear programme in India. India's status as a nuclear power features highly among Prime Minister Narendra Modi's priorities. India operates 20 mostly small reactors at six sites with a capacity of 4,780 megawatts or two per cent of its total power capacity, according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited.
The government hopes to increase its nuclear capacity to 63,000 megawatts by 2032 by adding nearly 30 reactors at an estimated cost of $85 billion. Australia, which has no nuclear power plants of its own, is one of the world's top exporters of uranium, mining 7,529 tonnes of uranium in fiscal 2011-12, worth 782 million Australian dollars, according to government figures. Abbott is visiting India and Malaysia as he seeks to deepen trade and personal ties in Asia ahead of the Group of 20 Leaders Summit scheduled to take place in Brisbane in November.