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« China to Build 28 More Nuclear Power Reactors by 2020 | Main | Regime Change in Niger Prompts Audit of Mining Contracts »

Australians Require Assurances Regarding Uranium Exports

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It would appear that not Australians are confident that their exported uranium will be used solely for peaceful purposes and more assurance is needed that the right protocols are in place.

A 2005 survey of 1200 Australians found that 56% of us believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear 'safeguards' system is ineffective.

Barely half as many believe the system is effective.

Public concern will be heightened by the Rudd Labor government's response on Thursday to a parliamentary inquiry into proposed uranium sales to Russia.

The inquiry – carried out in 2008 by the treaties committee – refused to endorse the uranium export agreement signed by John Howard and Vladimir Putin. One of the reasons was the failure of the agreement to specify meaningful safeguards arrangements to provide confidence that Australian uranium will remain in peaceful use.

The treaties committee was unmoved by the claim of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office that "strict" safeguards conditions would "ensure" that our uranium remains in peaceful use. All the more so after Friends of the Earth revealed that there hasn't been a single International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards inspection in Russia since 2001 – information which the safeguards office conspicuously failed to provide to the committee.

But resources minister Martin Ferguson isn't fussed.

His statement on Thursday asserts that the Howard-Putin agreement "would ensure that any uranium supplied could only be used for peaceful purposes". It doesn't – but Mr Ferguson isn't going to let the facts get in the way of a good story and he isn't going to let concerns over safeguards get between the uranium mining companies and a bucket of money.

Mr Ferguson asserts that "the safeguards enshrined in the Agreement are consistent with Australia’s long-standing and strict requirements to ensure the peaceful use of Australian uranium." But that is precisely the problem, Mr Ferguson – Australia exports uranium with no requirement for IAEA inspections to take place.

Moreover, the Howard-Putin agreement makes no provision for independent, Australian inspection and verification and we are therefore totally dependent on IAEA safeguards – which are non-existent! It would be funny if it wasn't true ... and if it didn't involve feedstock for Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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