Australia's uranium mines The Indian exception
WHAT Australia's outback deserts lack in water they make up for in uranium. They contain almost 40% of the world's known low-cost reserves of the nuclear fuel. It is big business for Australia: exploration companies are at present spending ten times more money searching for deposits than they did three years ago. And ore from Australia's three operating mines supplies about a quarter of the world's uranium-oxide exports. Until now all this has gone to countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This ensures, in theory, that they will use it to produce electricity rather than bombs. But on August 16th John Howard, Australia's prime minister, said he would lift a ban on selling uranium to India, which refuses to sign the NPT, has tested nuclear weapons and does not rule out testing more.
Mr Howard says the sales will be subject to “strict conditions”. India will first have to sign a safeguards agreement with Australia, guaranteeing that none of its uranium will be diverted to weapons. As part of an agreement with America (see article), it is also to submit to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency of some of its civil nuclear reactors. Yet environmentalists have accused the government of spoiling Australia's strong record on nuclear non-proliferation.
Australia's safeguards regime was drawn up in the late 1970s when a former conservative government agreed to open up newly discovered uranium deposits in the Northern Territory for mining and export. America, Japan and South Korea are among Australia's biggest customers.
Mr Howard first flagged the change of Australia's nuclear policy during a visit to New Delhi in early 2006. In part, he was echoing America's earlier decision to overturn a 30-year ban on sharing civilian nucl....
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