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Australia Develops Conscience Over Uranium Sale To Russia

  • September 5th, 2008
  • Posted by Daniel Challis

russia-nuclear-russiaspyorg.jpgCanberra has raised concerns this week over its current deal with Moscow to sell uranium for “peaceful purposes”.

The recent conflict in Georgia has sparked Federal Parliament’s Treaties Committee to investigate a forthcoming agreement that would limit Russia’s use of nuclear energy from Australian-sourced fuel to “peaceful purposes” only.

The agreement was reached between the Howard Government and Russia last year, at the APEC Summit in Sydney, and sets out strict guidelines limiting use of the to civilian electricity supply or medical reactors.
The Australian Conservation Foundation has said that the recent events in Georgia mean such a deal with Russia could not be sustained.

However the Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says the government will still consider ratifying the proposed treaty, the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement — with new reservations.

“We will take into account not just the merits of the agreement but events which have occurred in Georgia and the state of Australia’s bilateral relationship with Russia,” he said this month.

The Russian ambassador Alexander Blokhin has said Australia needed to tread carefully, as failure to ratify could potentially harm its economic interests.

There are risks both ways, according to the head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, John Carlson, who says Russia would not want to put a main source of electricity in jeopardy.

“If Russia abrogates a safeguards agreement, clearly the state concerned, Australia, plus all others with similar agreements, would terminate supply,” he said.

Since the agreement this time last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency has overseen the safeguard requirements for Australia selling uranium on safe terms to Russia — though it admits not having carried out any inspections within Russia since 2001.

Originally the deal was called a purely “economic” one by the then Russian president, now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin,

Its numerous conditions include an obligation on Russia not to pass pass on its uranium supply to third parties like Iran, along with undertakings against use of the material for arming weapons.

Russia has reportedly nearly 7000 active nuclear warheads in its military arsenal.Australia currently controls 40% of the world’s uranium stocks and has nuclear agreements like the Russian one with countries such as India, a non-signatory of the multilateral nuclear safeguards regime, and China.

The investigations started by the Australian parliamentary committee have occurred amidst widespread condemnation of Russia in the West, over its recognition of the rebel Georgian territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia — and over continuing violence in the Georgia itself.
Reference:

ABC, “Watchdog plays down Russian nuke fears”, abc.net.au, (1.9.08)

BBC, “Russia in Australia uranium deal”, news.bbc.co.uk, (7.7.07)

Russian Federation, Embassy in Australia (Home), http://www.russia.embassy.gov.au/;http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/russia/index.html

Picture: Russian nuclear power plant; www.russiaspy.org

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