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Uranium to India? Let’s Wait For Them to Sign the Treaty or Send it Elsewhere

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard announced yesterday that she would seek from her party at the ALP National Conference a reversal of their parties ban on uranium sales to nations that have not signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT). The Prime Minister sought this shift in policy to allow uranium sales to India.Since this decision was made there has been widespread debate and opinion as to whether or not this change in policy was a good idea, what the motives may be behind the move and what possible outcomes this could herald for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons or otherwise.

The Gillard Government in announcing the policy has indicated that it will be asking India to comply with what they say are strict safeguards of similar nature to those required by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Labor leader has also said there will be strict bilateral transparency arrangements relating to the trade and subsequent usage of Australian uranium.

This begs the question: If there is only a slight difference between the oversight provided for under the proposal and that which the Indian Government would be subject to under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, then why should India not just sign up first?

The answer that both the cynic in me and the realist comes up with, is that then, it would be a lot harder for India to pursue nuclear weapons and related defence materiel if subject to the full auspices of the IAEA.

At the same time that raises concerns that the oversight allowed under the agreement that is sought might be limited in its width and depth. In other words, does not take into account, that with the extra uranium from Australia, it is possible for India to undertake a wider weapons program with uranium sourced elsewhere.

Sadly, with or without the nuclear weapons treaty, the Indian Government experiences high levels of corruption so the prospect also of some form of clandestine weapons buildup is an easily fostered proposition in such an environment. Consequently, it is possible then that less sophisticated nuclear weaponry could be constructed in or brought to India.

Therefore, it is probably best we increased uranium exports to nations that have signed the NNPT, that still may have existing nuclear weapons or in the very best scenario export more uranium to nations with nuclear power needs and no known or documented warheads.

Those are not the only issues out there, there is also the issue of another back-flip from Labor on their traditional ideals, this coming from the party which doesn’t agree with having nuclear power domestically, but is now happy to provide for an acceleration of it elsewhere.

In any case, while we may be able to at least reasonably guarantee that our uranium will not go toward weapon development, we cannot say absolutely that the extra uranium from Australia would not give India the means and capacity to pursue weapons development. It is this uncertainty that should create enough doubt on the propriety and sense of pursuing such an agreement.

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