Australia Considers Lifting Ban on Uranium Sales to India: How will it be Used?

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has recently suggested lifting the country’s ban on the sale of uranium to India with the aim of improving the relationship between the two nations.  India’s external affairs minister, SM Krishna, has expressed India’s positive response to Gillard’s efforts to remove the ban and support India’s energy needs moving forward.  Australia is home to the world’s largest uranium reserves and the contentions of Gillard raised the concern of the Pakistani government which indicated that any sales of uranium to India could be perceived as an attempt to increase India’s nuclear capability.  Australia’s reluctance in supplying India with uranium has largely been influenced by the fact that India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The labor party, currently holding the greatest political power in Australia, is scheduled to discuss the issue within the next month and any lift of the ban would first need approval from the major uranium producing states in Australia.

Interestingly, Gillard may find further justification for lifting the ban within the language of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that provided the rationale for the imposition of the ban.  The relevant section of the Treaty is found in Article IV, section 2:

All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.

Clearly this section places an emphasis on aiding those countries with nuclear energy needs that are parties to the Treaty.  However, the language seems to suggest Parties to the treaty have some form of an obligation to aide developing areas of the world with energy needs.  Considering India’s continued need for development and large population, one may argue that India falls within this category.

Would you agree with such an interpretation of the Treaty?   Are Pakistan’s concerns legitimate, particularly considering the continued tension between India and Pakistan?  Should Australia lift the ban, and if so, how can India’s usage of the uranium be monitored?  In instances where parties to the treaty elect to provide uranium for energy purposes to non parties, should the Treaty be reworded to include language pertaining to the regulation of the usage of the uranium?  Who should regulate the usage, the particular nation selling the uranium or the other parties to the Treaty?

Link to article here.

2 comments

  1. You’ve pointed out the tension in the NPT that makes it both very interesting and likely difficult to comply with in some cases. Its goals are nonproliferation of nuclear weapons on the one hand but also the peaceful advance of nuclear technology, especially to developing states, on the other. A deceptively simple dichotomy. I think the situation at hand illustrates the competing interests very well – after all, the NPT seeks to “further the easing of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States in order to facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons.” But this is difficult if not impossible where Pakistan and India are locked into a position of mutual mistrust. Since the 1998 nuclear testing by both sides, they cannot sign the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states, and both refuse to sign as nuclear weapon states. Would India sign without a promise that Pakistan would also? I think Australia cannot ignore the implication of heightened distrust in the region in its decision on whether to transfer.

  2. Oh how I loathe nuclear technology – it is just so dangerous. There is a real and legitimate fear of what will happen when it starts being shared with other countries of the world. Especially those that have not signed on to treaties agreeing not to develop nuclear weapons. But even nuclear power is a frightening thing as it can also be very dangerous. And even though it is condoned to promote use of nuclear energy in third world countries this worries me as so much money and research needs to go into how to make it safe.

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