Australia Ignores Red Light On Uranium Exports To India

13/11/2015 10:34 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Fairfax Media via Getty Images
(AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND OUT) An ore truck at ERA's Ranger uranium mine, 6 September 2005. AFR Picture by GLENN CAMPBELL (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

The federal government has delivered a stiff slap in the face to due process and evidence-based policy development by ignoring an unambiguous red light on planned uranium sales to India.

It was only two months ago that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties delivered a well-considered report into the controversial plan to sell Australian uranium to India. The government-controlled Committee identified a number of practical steps needed to address safety, security and legal uncertainty around the deal.

Importantly the committee's report clearly recommended against uranium sales at this time or under the current terms of the Australia-India Nuclear Co-operation Agreement, and outlined a series of pre-conditions required before any future sales to India.

These include the full separation of military and civil nuclear facilities, the establishment of an independent nuclear regulatory authority, a review of the adequacy and independence of the regulatory framework, IAEA verification that inspections of nuclear facilities are of best practice standard, improved decommissioning and radioactive waste planning and more.

But, earlier this week, the government chose to ignore these recommendations -- emphatically stating that "the Government does not accept the Committee's recommendation that exports of uranium to India should be deferred."

For an issue as important as supplying uranium, this is a deeply disturbing and deficient response. It also raises the question -- why do we bother having parliamentary standing committees if their recommendations are so blithely ignored? Putting the promise of profit for uranium companies ahead of addressing the documented dangers for the wider community in India and beyond is a derelict and dangerous step.

As the committee pointed out, there are serious and unresolved concerns associated with this sales plan and the way India would handle Australia's uranium.

If we proceed down this path, Australia risks being globally regarded as an irresponsible supplier of one of the riskiest substances on the planet, without proper scrutiny and against the recommendations of its own review processes.

This much we also know -- India is actively expanding its nuclear arsenal and weapons capabilities through increased uranium enrichment capacity, increased attention to multiple weapons launch platforms, and advanced work on improved submarine launch capabilities.

The proposed treaty action places no practical, political or perception barrier to any of these activities. Instead it effectively gives a green light to India's nuclear weapons ambitions. Such a cavalier approach is not in the best interests of Australia or the region and undermines both our collective safety and Australia's existing international treaty obligations.

Australia clearly has a role to play in providing clean energy solutions to assist in meeting India's energy aspirations, especially given the large number of rural poor remain living in energy poverty.

Using Australian expertise to facilitate India's renewable sector would allow the country to leapfrog the dangerous and dirty old energy sources that threaten public health and regional stability and provide fast, flexible and secure power that keeps village lights on and global Geiger counters off.

In fast-tracking poorly considered uranium sales and ignoring the non-partisan advice of its own expert parliamentary committee the Turnbull government has failed its first nuclear test and set itself up for a continuing contest.

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