MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia will supply uranium to India

Published by MAC on 2014-09-05
Source: The Australian (2014-09-04)

Finally, after years of debate and internal political dissent, the Australia government will  sell uranium to India, under a pact signed beween the two states  this week.

No doubt this is music to the ears of Australia's two largest uranium mining companies - Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. *

But, almost inevitably, the metal will be used not only to fuel civil nuclear facilities, but also (if indirectly) to sustain India's atomic weapons programme.

This, despite Australia purporting to impose "safeguards" on the South Asian state.

India's decades-long access to uranium from its mines in Jharkand state is now under some threat, following accusations that it has long triggered radiation-related diseases and appalling physical abnormalties among neighbouring villagers, especially children. [See: India's Uranium Boss Says Deformed Children May Be 'Imported']

It's not at all certain that India's domestic production of uranium willy be reduced as a result of  current inquiries into the Jadugora mines. Nor is Australia's supply of the deadly fuel likely to be that large - at least for the time being.

Nonetheless, this newly-concluded agreement not only marks a flagrant breach of the global Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. It also foreshadows a dangerous military collaboration between the two powers.

In the following article, The Australian newspaper bursts with unalloyed enthusiasm for the deal, and concludes:

"Though not formal allies, the two nations share profound geo-strategic values and points of view, though of course there are differences  Our two defence forces should do a lot more training and exercising together.

"The time has come to upgrade this relationship in every way".

* Editorial note: The two biggest miners of Australian uranium ore are Rio Tinto/ERA, from the Ranger mine in the Northern Territory (5,500 tonnes a year); and BHP Billiton at Olympic Dam in South Australia (4,500 tonnes a year).

Australia posseses the world's largest uranium reserves in one country (estimated at around a third of the global  total); Olympic Dam hosts the world's largest single deposit.

Abbott and Modi's nuclear pact augurs well for Australia-India ties

The Australian

4 September 2014

TONY Abbott will sign a nuclear safeguards agreement tomorrow with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi that will pave the way for Australia to export uranium to India.

Although exports on any significant scale are still some time off, this is a big moment in one of Australia's most important foreign relationships.

It is a significant sign of strategic trust. It marks a moment of new maturity in the Australia-India relationship. It is a vote of confidence by Abbott in Modi's new government.

Abbott has worked hard to get to India as soon as possible after Modi's election. India is a big, complex and always challenging nation.

Getting something like a head of government visit organised is always full of complications and delays. Abbott's visit is the first to Modi by a foreign leader to receive official head of government designation.

A sign of India's growing centrality to regional and global power equations is that Modi is just back from Japan and an important exchange with his (and Abbott's) friend Shinzo Abe. Shortly after Abbott leaves, Modi will receive China's President Xi Jinping, and shortly after that Modi will go to the US to visit President Barack Obama.

In November, Modi will visit Australia for the G20 summit. It will be the first visit to Australia by an Indian prime minister in 28 years, a fact that is a shocking indictment of Australian diplomacy towards India. On that trip, Modi will make a full bilateral visit to Australia as well.

India is a nation that punishes the impatient. Abbott is not impatient with India but he sees its strategic, economic and cultural importance, and he wants to upgrade the relationship substantially. India is one big Asian country where the Centre-Right of Australian politics has an infinitely better story to tell than the Centre-Left.

In 2007, John Howard overturned the longstanding ban on Australia selling uranium to India. This was in the wake of the US-India nuclear co-operation deal, which was ratified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Howard did this in the face of some opposition from his cabinet and some entrenched resistance from within the bureaucracy. It was a classic case of a prime minister seeing the big strategic picture.

As soon as the Rudd government was elected, it reversed Howard's decision. This, along with a later decision to suspend the export of live cattle to Indonesia, was one of the two dumbest, most counterproductive foreign policy decisions made in the life of the Rudd-Gillard governments.

It was an insult to the Indians. And let me say this as an unabashed lover of India: the Indian government is typically not that slow to take offence.

It became a strategic roadblock in the relationship, one consequence of which was that Manmohan Singh did not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth.

And it achieved absolutely nothing for Australia. It was such spectacular bad policy that there was not a single Labor minister concerned with it who would defend it in private or who did not accept that eventually it must change.

It remains one of the minor mysteries of diplomatic history why Kevin Rudd did not use his massive authority as the newly minted Labor saviour to change the policy unilaterally.

Perhaps it was an early case of Rudd trying to have it both ways - gaining applause from anti-nuclear lefties for a bit of wretched symbolism while giving the wink to pro-Indian folks that the policy would change in time.

Eventually Julia Gillard, a prime minister in a much weaker position than Rudd when he won office, reversed the policy. The gothic distrust within the Labor government was evident in her not telling Rudd, who was then the foreign minister, that she was doing this before announcing it.

Rudd himself never took India seriously. In his entire prime ministership, he spent exactly one day there.

He made no serious intellectual effort to engage India and as a result we had anaemic institutional engagement, dreadfully marred by the then Victorian government's shocking mishandling of the assaults on Indian students in Melbourne.

All that is now water under the bridge.

Abbott spent a couple of months in India as a young man. He has a natural affinity for its political values, its magnificent use of the English language and its food.

More seriously, he understands that India is already a kind of superpower in information technology and in culture.

There is a new global Indian elite, which is evident everywhere from Silicon Valley to Booker Prize shortlists.

The people-to-people relationship between Australia and India has been growing apace. With China, India is typically our biggest or second biggest source of foreign students and the first or second biggest source of immigrants.

Its economic growth rate has declined in the past couple of years but it is still a big economy growing much faster than most other economies.

On the admittedly ridiculous purchasing power parity measure, it is already the world's third largest economy. Measured by real dollars, its economy is a lot further behind the leaders than that, but it is big in absolute terms and rapidly getting bigger.

India offers enormous export opportunities to Australia in resources, education and virtually all services. It is already our fifth largest export market.

Abbott is also keen to substantially upgrade defence co-operation. This has a big regional context in the Indian Ocean, where Australia and India have such obvious common interests, but also flows from India's enhanced engagement with East and Southeast Asia.

There is also a purely bilateral element, however. Australian and Indian forces fought side by side at Gallipoli. They have a great common heritage.

Though not formal allies, the two nations share profound geo-strategic values and points of view, though of course there are differences.

Our two defence forces should do a lot more training and exercising together.

The time has come to upgrade this relationship in every way.

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