Australia paves way for uranium sales to Russia

SYDNEY: Australia has cleared the way to sell uranium to Russia against the advice of a parliamentary committee, saying Friday it was satisfied the valuable atomic chemical would not be used in weapons.

Trade Minister Simon Crean said the Australia-Russia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, signed by Canberra's former conservative administration in September 2007, would ensure any uranium sold was used only for peaceful purposes.

"We have taken considerable time on our part to ensure we're satisfied, the International Atomic Energy Agency is satisfied, that... the strictest of safeguards are in place," Crean told public broadcaster ABC.

The agreement, which is yet to be ratified, means uranium supplied to Russia can only be used for peaceful purposes, must meet IAEA safeguards and can only be used in facilities agreed by Australia.

But a parliamentary inquiry into the treaty had called for the deal not to go ahead unless Russia met a number of conditions, including speeding up reforms to separate civilian and military nuclear plants.

The Greens party said Canberra's response to the recommendations from the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties showed it wanted to "open the uranium floodgates to Russia".

Australia has 27 percent of the world's uranium reserves. The centre-left Labor government has said it will only be sold to nations that are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- such as Russia.

The position leaves India, which has long campaigned for access to Australian uranium for energy production but remains outside the treaty, unable to tap the resource.

"I think this signals to India that this is the way in which they can be recipients of our supply and it's for India to respond to," Crean said.

Most uranium mined in Australia, the second-largest producer after Canada, ends up in the United States, France and Japan. But Russia is seen as a solid market as the country expands its nuclear energy sector.

Australia and China meanwhile ratified a agreement in 2007 clearing the way for the export of uranium to feed Beijing's giant nuclear power programme.