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Australia-India Uranium Export Talks Set For 2012

The Australian and Indian governments are scheduled in 2012 to discuss atomic material safeguards for uranium exported to the nuclear-armed South Asian nation, the Australian newspaper reported on Tuesday (see GSN,  Dec. 5).

Before bilateral nuclear trade talks can take place, the Australian government Cabinet must officially authorize uranium exports to India -- an action that was made possible after the ruling Labor Party voted in favor of allowing such sales.

Labor had formerly opposed selling the material to the nation that possesses nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Australian Uranium Association chief executive Michael Angwin said it could still be years before the first uranium shipments are sent to energy-hungry India.

"The uranium industry encourages the Australian government to develop legal and treaty arrangements with India that are much like those we have with other nations to whom we sell uranium and who are signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," Angwin said. "But this may take a number of years."

The Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade Department would oversee the talks with New Delhi. Any deal that emerges would be derived from previous safeguards agreements struck with other nations.

Trade talks are anticipated to begin no later than mid-2012 and would include trips by envoys, legal professionals, and trade specialists to each nation.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan has responded to the Labor Party reversal by demanding that it too be permitted to purchase Australian uranium.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said Pakistan was wracked by too much instability to be granted a deal.

"India is a stable democracy and Pakistan is a country that Australia wants to have good relations with, but it is just not in the same position," Abbott said. "They're just very different countries."

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Pakistan has not been issued a waiver to conduct atomic trade with member states to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. New Delhi has been granted such an exemption.

Ziggy Switkowski, the ex-head of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, said uranium sales to Islamabad "will need to be considered" at some point.

"Pakistan is handicapped by its less than impressive history in the whole nuclear space, having traded nuclear secrets to unstable regimes, in Iran, in Libya and North Korea," Switkowski said in a reference to the proliferation network once overseen by former head Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan (Brendan Nicholson, The Australian, Dec. 6).

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