(Reuters) - Australia's ruling Labor Party on Sunday endorsed plans to open up uranium sales to India, clearing the way for talks on a bilateral nuclear agreement and resolving an issue that has caused diplomatic tensions between the two nations.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the plan in November, but needed her party's national policy conference to overturn its ban on selling uranium to countries which are not signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Gillard successfully pushed her uranium policy through the conference, despite an often heated debate and chants from protesters who remain opposed to nuclear energy and weapons.
"We should take a decision that is in our nation's interest, a decision about strengthening our strategic partnership with India in this the Asian century," Gillard said, adding Australia already sold uranium to China, the United States and Japan.
Australia has almost 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves, but supplies only 19 percent of the world market. It has no nuclear power stations.
SYDNEY: Australia's ruling Labor party voted Sunday to lift a long-standing ban on exporting uranium to India after a passionate debate about nuclear weapons and reactor safety following Japan's quake crisis.
Labor passed Prime Minister Julia Gillard's proposal with 206 votes to 185, reversing a decades-old policy excluding New Delhi from Australia's uranium trade because it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Gillard argued that it was neither rational nor intellectually defensible to sell uranium to rising powers such as China and not to India, "the world's largest democracy" and a fast-growing nation of increasing global clout.
"Let's just face facts here -- our refusal to sell uranium to India is not going to cause India to decide that it will no longer have nuclear weapons," Gillard told the Labor summit.
"We can honour the treaty, we can change our platform, we can -- under the most stringent of agreements -- sell uranium to India if we so choose and, delegates, I believe that we should make that choice."
Although Australia does not use nuclear power, it is the world's third-ranking uranium producer behind Kazakhstan and Canada, exporting 9,600 tonnes of oxide concentrate each year worth more than A$1.1 billion ($1.1 billion).
It also has the world's largest reserves of uranium, holding 23 per cent of the total, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Canberra ships the nuclear fuel to China, Japan, Taiwan and the United States but has refused to sell to India -- long a sticking point in usually cordial relations between the key trading partners.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith backed Gillard's proposal, saying India had voluntarily submitted to civilian nuclear checks by international regulators and was a "rising power... which is deserving of being accorded that status".
New Delhi agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and abide by International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards under a 2005 agreement with the United States which Gillard has cited as a precedent for her decision.
Strong views were voiced against lifting the ban, with British-born Communications Minister Stephen Conroy choking up with emotion as he described how the 1957 Windscale nuclear fire in Cumbria had affected his family.
Windscale was Britain's worst atomic accident, rated at five out of seven on the international scale, in which a blaze inside a reactor released substantial amounts of radioactive contaminants into the local area.
Parts of Australia's desert interior were left uninhabitable by British atomic tests in the same period (1955-63) and one delegate said local people were "dying of cancers to this day".
Peter Garrett, former frontman for the rock band Midnight Oil, got a standing ovation for his impassioned speech, as did Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, who criticised the move following Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster.
"Nine months after Fukushima we are being asked to sell more uranium for more nuclear reactors to a country that does not have nuclear safeguards," Albanese said.
Anti-nuclear campaigners said it was a "major blow to the global nuclear non-proliferation regime".
"The Labor Party has put profits before the peace and security of the region," said Tim Wright, Australian director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
India is expected to increase its use of nuclear power from three percent of electricity generation to 40 percent by 2050, and Australia's uranium lobby believes it could be selling 2,500 tonnes a year to the Asian giant by 2030.
Australia's ruling Labor party today backed Prime Minister Julia Gillard's bold move to overturn a longstanding ban on uranium sale to India, paving the way for removal of a major irritant in bilateral ties.
Delegates at the Australian Labor Party's (ALP's) national conference in Sydney favoured Gillard's decision to open up uranium sale to India despite the country being a non-signatory to the NPT after a passionate discussion on the issue, with 206 members voting in favour and 185 against.
With opponents of the move citing the Fukushima nuclear disaster that rocked Japan following a massive quake and tsunami in March, Gillard, while moving the motion in this regard, said approving the plan would boost trade and enhance Australia's relationship with India.
"We are at the right time in the history of the world to seize a new era of opportunity in this, the Asian century," Gillard said. "We need to make sure that across our regions we have the strongest possible relationships we can, including with the world's largest democracy, India."
She said it was not rational that Australia sells uranium to China but not to India.
"We are not a political party that shirks hard decisions," Gillard said. "At this conference we should take a decision in the national interest."
She argued that Australia could sell uranium to India without breaching its obligations under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.
Gillard said any agreement to sell uranium to India would include strict safeguards to minimise proliferation risks.
"Let's just face facts here -- our refusal to sell uranium to India is not going to cause India to decide that it will no longer have nuclear weapons," she said.
"We can honour the treaty, we can change our platform, we can -- under the most stringent of agreements -- sell uranium to India if we so choose and, delegates, I believe that we should make that choice," Gillard said.
The policy change was supported by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Defence Minister Stephen Smith and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.
However, the decision was opposed by some of the party members including Stephen Conroy, Tanya Plibersek and Peter Garrett.
Before the vote on the issue, Garrett said it is too dangerous to sell uranium to India because it has not signed the NPT.
Labor Senator Doug Cameron said: "Prime Minister, you are wrong; ministers, you are wrong" in approving the move. "Forget all the arguments about jobs, it's a sideshow."
Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese, who also opposed the move, said, "It is the case that nine months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster is not the time to be expanding our uranium exports."
Albanese said the fact that India had not signed the NPT and that nuclear waste was difficult to deal with were "two unresolved issues".
"I say that until we have resolved the issues of nuclear proliferation and we have resolved the issue of nuclear waste we should not change our platform to further expand our commitment to the nuclear fuel cycle," he said.
Smith, who favoured Gillard's plan, said any sales would be overseen by international nuclear regulators.
"The world changed on this matter in 2008 and 2009 and today the Labor Party needs to change as well," he said.
Gillard had announced on November 15 her plans to lift the ban on uranium sale to India, saying "India is our fourth biggest export market, a market worth nearly USD 16 billion to Australia, with enormous potential to grow as India becomes wealthier."
Australia is the world's third largest supplier of uranium, which contributed more than USD 750 million to its economy and created more than 4,200 jobs.
India is expected to increase its use of nuclear power from the current 3 per cent of electricity generation to 40 per cent by 2050, Gillard had noted while announcing her move.
Gillard had also discussed the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Bali in Indonesia last month.
US President Barack Obama, who visited Australia before attending the East Asia Summit in Bali, had also backed Gillard's plans to sell uranium to India, saying it "seemed to be compatible with international law and the NPT".
"India is a big player and the Australia-India relationship is one that should be cultivated," Obama had said.
Meanwhile, Australian Workers' Union National Secretary Paul Howes said the NPT was a "dead-letter treaty".
"(It's) a treaty which has not stopped the proliferation of nuclear weaponry," he said. "I believe the 400 million people who live in India without power deserve the right like we do to have powered homes and schools and hospitals."
Australia is home to almost 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves and ships the nuclear fuel to China, Japan, Taiwan and the United States.
FILED ON: DEC 04, 2011 11:04 IST
Why is not surprising. India snubs Australia's initiative to form a defense pact and making I clear that you cannot have pacts when you cannot do business like sell uranium. This was on the cards. Next we might hear India is more receptive towards the defence pact.
EAM welcomes Australian Labour Party’s decision to clear path for Uranium sales to India
December 04, 2011
In response to a question the External Affairs Minister of India Sh. S. M. Krishna stated the following:
“It is learnt that the Australian Labour Party agreed today, to allow sale of Uranium to India for power generation. Bilateral cooperation in the energy sector is one of the important facets of our multifaceted ties with Australia. We welcome this initiative”.
I don't know Yusuf, but still it is not safe to have a pact with some countries that sit thousands of miles away on either side of the world. A pact would mean we will need to clean their dirty work. That's not something we want. Its better if we engage with either bilaterally if at all or simply an individual-natured tri-lateral exercise.
Any pact that has binding points is not good for us.
If that happens and things get rough with the Reds across border, US will shrink back to its mainland and we will have to clean the shytstorm and save Australian behinds as well.
btw, Kevin Rudd, who when prime minister had his tongue so far up the CCP's arsehole that he couldnt pull it out in time to defend himself from being kicked out of the PM's post now has Karma catching up with him
Fisrt he has to explain to his buddies in China about the uranium sale to India since he heads the foreign misittry
Secondly this ALP post-mortem damns Rudd