We take a closer look at the Australia-India uranium deal.
Australian uranium could start being exported to India within a year after the two governments sealed the controversial agreement early this month. The uranium – intended for use in India’s civilian nuclear reactors – will help fuel the rapid expansion of India’s domestic energy sources, and in turn raise living standards.
This all sounds good, right? Except India is one of only 4 countries that are non-signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) (5 if you count North Korea’s withdrawal from the Treaty in 2003) and it maintains a small stockpile of nuclear weapons. The new deal would therefore put Australia in breach of its international obligations under the NPT. Critics also cry that the uranium could be used to produce nuclear weapons in India (although this is probably a little dramatic).
Having said all that, the policy of only exporting to countries that have joined the NPT seems unsustainable. The NPT only allows countries that tested the bomb before 1967 to possess nuclear arms, so India would need to surrender its small arsenal before signing. This however is unlikely to happen while Pakistan and China hold onto their nuclear weapons.
In other ways India is a responsible non-proliferation citizen. Unlike China or Pakistan, it has never been reported to have helped other countries acquire the bomb. It is also a member of multi-lateral organisations including the World Association of Nuclear Operators and the International Atomic Energy Agency. At the same time India’s civilian nuclear industry is growing rapidly making it an almost irresistible trading partner. The number of reactors is expected to increase three-fold over the next decade and, by 2050, India plans for more than a quarter of its energy to come from nuclear sources.
Australia holds about a third of the world's recoverable uranium resources (which is a lot), and exports nearly 7000 tonnes a year. With decreasing demand in established nuclear countries, places like India seem like the next logical frontier for Australia’s uranium business. So what if we breach a few international obligations?