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Chance for uranium diplomacy

By Thom Woodroofe - posted Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The world was understandably shocked by the events of Fukushima that continue to drag on.

A month before, I wrote in this newspaper urging the Gillard Government to overturn its uranium export ban to India which has become a bad symbol of our diplomatic relationship.

At the time, I held out hope that when the Indian Manmohan Singh visits Perth in October for a Commonwealth Meeting that he would extend the trip to a bilateral visit during which a reversal in Australia's policy could be announced.


But this now looks increasingly unlikely.

The zero-sum mentality of the ban is based on the fact that despite India already being a nuclear power they have not signed the archaic and exclusive nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The reality is that the world's appetite for Australia's uranium will not slow in the wake of the Japanese disaster.

This was highlighted last week in Perth by the Resources Minister Martin Ferguson – himself a closet supporter of nuclear power in Australia – when he said "What Fukushima will not do is change the fundamental drivers, the increasing population and increasing demand for energy that are behind the desire by some nations for more nuclear power".

And he is right.

While several of the four hundred nuclear reactors around the world were shut down in the wake of Fukushima, the vast bulk continue to operate. These, coupled with increasing global demand from countries such as India – which plans a tenfold increase in nuclear power to 2050 – will keep the world's eyes firmly focused on Australia.


Australia is home to forty percent of the world's uranium reserves with approximately $9 billion of that in Western Australia. This provides Australia with unique leverage to use these reserves as currency to do good in the world.

On nuclear non-proliferation, this could take the form of embedding various bilateral agreements on use into our uranium trade deals with countries like India rather than relying on them to simply sign the NPT.

For instance some have argued that by selling India uranium we could make it conditional on a cessation of the production of fissile material for weapons. This would be a markedly different approach to the NPT all or nothing agenda which achieves zero with India as a non-signatory.

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This article was originally published in the West Australian, on June 13, 2011.

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About the Author

Thom Woodroofe, 21, is a foreign affairs analyst combining journalism, research, teaching and community work to advance an understanding of Australia's place in the world.

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