Australia wavers on uranium sales to Russia

Other News Materials 18 September 2008 11:24 (UTC +04:00)

Russia's incursion into neighbouring Georgia had prompted Australia to think twice about shipping uranium under a deal negotiated last year by the former conservative government, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Thursday.

Under a deal yet to be ratified, Australia agreed to sell Moscow uranium as long as it was used for power generation rather than for making nuclear weapons, reported dpa.

"Obviously the global situation in relation to the Russian Federation is now complex as a result of what we have seen in Georgia and most particularly in Southern Ossetia," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told Parliament.

"We'll be working closely with international governments on the best response to the Russians. This is again a very difficult challenge for the global order."

A parliamentary committee dealing with treaties has recommended that Canberra postpone ratification until Russia was seen to be complying with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and asked for stringent conditions to be met.

Those include the separation of Russia's civil and military nuclear facilities and resumption of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency of facilities using Australian uranium.

Under a 1990 agreement, Australia ships small amounts of uranium for processing in Russia.

The military adventure in Georgia has changed perceptions. When then foreign minister Alexander Downer struck the deal last year, he said it was unlikely that Russia would not abide by its international agreements.

"I don't think Russia would want to become a rogue state and break international law," Downer said. "It would lead to a collapse in their relations with Australia and probably with an awful lot more countries. I don't think there is any danger of that."

But Stephen Smith, Downer's successor, said recent events would be taken into account when the government looked at ratification of the treaty.

"The government will take into account, not just the merits of the agreement but recent and ongoing events in Georgia and the state of Australia's bilateral relations with the Russian Federation," Smith told Parliament.

Australia has 40 per cent of the world's known reserves of uranium and exports to 36 countries. Labor has baulked at selling uranium to India because News Delhi is not a signatory to the NPT. Last year exports to China began.