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« Nuclear Regulator Ticks Off Her Wish List | Main | The dream that failed »
Friday
Aug032012

Austrailia approves uranium exports to UAE

Australia has agreed to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates as one of the Middle East's richest oil kingdoms switches to nuclear power.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr signed a safeguards agreement in Abu Dhabi yesterday, intended to guarantee Australian uranium is only used for peaceful purposes.

The deal - potentially worth up to $200 million in yellowcake exports - follows the controversial shift by Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year to overturn Labor's ban on uranium sales to India.

Senator Carr said the UAE will become the first Middle East market for Australian uranium in what has been interpreted as a sign of faith in the nuclear industry.

But anti-nuclear campaigners have slammed the deal as out of step with European moves to wind back the reliance on atomic power after the disaster last year at the Fukishima power plant in Japan.

''Germany has committed to get out of nuclear power within a decade and nations such as Switzerland, Belgium and Italy are moving away from nuclear power,'' said Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Mr Sweeney also raised concerns over the long-term stability of the UAE while the country remained an absolute monarchy.

Tim Wright from the International Campaign Against Nuclear weapons said safeguards agreements only offered ''the illusion of protection'' against the proliferation of atomic bombs and the deal undermined Australia's support for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.

''Opening up sales to the most volatile region in the world is a deeply troubling development, and should be strongly resisted,'' he said.

The UAE - with an official population of 5.3 million, but home to many more migrant labourers - has enormous energy demands to run desalination plants and air-conditioning.

Senator Carr said the ''strict'' guidelines will include the safe handling of radioactive material and restrictions on re-export.

Australia also sells uranium to Russia and China under similar arrangements and has 22 nuclear safeguard agreements with other countries across the world.

The Russian deal was held up in Federal Parliament in 2009 over concerns Australian uranium could not be properly monitored and in what appeared a protest against Russia's war with neighbouring Georgia.

The UAE deal will also need to be approved by the treaties committee of Parliament.

Michael Angwin from the Australian Uranium Association said the deal with UAE was unlikely to make a large difference to Australia's uranium exports.

''But what it does do is signal the world's nuclear industry is growing,'' he said, adding that Australia's uranium sector had been through a difficult time.

He said the Australian government provided a warranty to protect the exports with the safeguards arrangements which carried a lot of weight.

The UAE is expected to build four nuclear reactors, with power generation to begin in 2020.

Australian uranium companies are facing fierce competition from Kazakhstan in the world uranium market.

Senator Carr will also travel to Jordan to discuss the conflict in Syria, and from there make his first official visit to Israel.

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