The leaders of Australia and India this week are discussing the outlines of a possible uranium export agreement that anti-nuclear advocates are concerned will harm international nonproliferation goals, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Australian Prime Minister and Labor Party leader Julia Gillard in 2011 convinced her party to reverse its longstanding opposition of uranium sales to India, which possesses nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Under Labor Party leadership, Canberra is now pursuing a uranium trade agreement with New Delhi that would include some nonproliferation guarantees and stipulate some access to Indian nuclear installations, according to earlier reporting.
"We know how to negotiate these agreements and we've done it in the past, and we've done it on the basis that Australian uranium is only used for peaceful purposes," Gillard said.
The Australian leader has promoted uranium sales to India as necessary for building strategic ties with one of the world's rising powers. "I formed the view as prime minister that it was appropriate for us to sell uranium to India, and that it had become an obstacle in our relationship that we were not," she said.
India relies on its own uranium deposits to feed its nuclear weapons production effort. Ex-Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office head John Carlson, said there is little chance of New Delhi diverting Australian-origin uranium to build more warheads.
"They have an independent military program which is clearly sufficient for their needs," according to Carlson. "Now that India has taken the decision that it wants to import nuclear technology ... it's clearly important for India to maintain security of supply for those materials."
However, an internal Indian government investigation has revealed substantial weaknesses in safety regulations for the country's civilian atomic sector.
Australian Greens Party head Christine Milne said if Canberra goes through with uranium sales to India, it would bear a portion of the blame in the event of any atomic disasters in the South Asian country.
Separately, India and Sri Lanka held productive talks on Friday in the Indian capital on a possible civilian atomic collaboration agreement, according to a joint press release.
"Both sides exchanged views on all aspects of civil nuclear cooperation and reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the uses of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes to mutual benefit of the people of the two countries," the statement reads. "It was agreed that the two sides would work towards a comprehensive agreement on bilateral civil nuclear cooperation. Discussions included, inter alia, training of officials, nuclear safety and response to nuclear accidents."