TOPICS: Uranium sales may fuel arms race

Australia’s deal to export uranium to India — which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty — will strengthen India’s nuclear capabilities and could lead to a heightened arms race on the subcontinent, say activists. Dave Sweeney, from the Australian Conservation Foundation (AFC), says that Australia is rewarding unscrupulous behaviour. “In giving the go-ahead to uranium sales to India, the federal government is telling the world (that) if you break your promises, breach international law and build nuclear weapons, Australia will respond not with sanctions, but with priority picks of our uranium,” Sweeney said.

The deal, agreed to in principle by Australian PM John Howard and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, signals a departure from Australia’s hitherto policy of not exporting uranium to countries that are non-signatories to the NPT. The agreement comes less than a decade after India carried out several nuclear tests, followed closely by Pakistan testing its “Islamic bomb”, demonstrating that both South Asian rivals had nuclear capabilities. The deal follows an agreement in March between India and the US, which plans to provide India with uranium and nuclear technology. Under the agreement India is also allowed to reprocess fuel.

It also comes after Australia’s agreement in January to supply China with uranium. But unlike India, China is a signatory to the NPT. In addition, Australia is currently negotiating a deal to export uranium to Russia, with progress expected to be made at September’s APEC meeting in Sydney. In a statement issued to the media, Howard said that uranium exports to India will be subject to strict conditions. These include an agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on safeguards; a consensus among members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to make India an exception to its guidelines regarding international civil supply; and that Australian uranium would not contribute to Indian military purpose.

However, activists argue that India’s military will directly benefit from Australian uranium exports. Steve Shallhorn, chief executive of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, says that providing uranium for civil purposes will directly assist India’s nuclear capacity by enabling Indian uranium to be used by the military. India refuses to open its nuclear programme to full inspections and will use Australian uranium to free up its own supplies for weapons production,” says Shallhorn.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has raised concerns about India’s proliferation record. Based on a July 2005 “European Intelligence Assessment”, ISIS argues that Indian

“nuclear entities and trading companies have procured nuclear dual-use equipment and material overseas without specifying that the end-user is an unsafeguarded uranium enrichment plant.” ISIS stated that “proliferant states are known to target Indian industries.” — IPS