MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia, China To Begin Formal Uranium Talks

Published by MAC on 2005-08-10
Source: Planet Ark, Reuters

Australia, China to Begin Formal Uranium Talks

August 10, 2005

Planet Ark, Reuters

CANBERRA - Australia plans to begin formal talks on a pact to allow China to buy uranium for its growing energy needs, while ensuring the mineral is not used to build weapons, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Tuesday. The formal negotiations come after nine months of informal, exploratory talks on a possible safeguards agreement -- ensuring the safe use and disposal of uranium and its by-products -- to allow Australia to export uranium to China.

A spokesman for Downer said a date had not yet been set for the first round of discussions.

"China is the world's second-largest energy consumer and has a high projected growth in electricity demand. China's plans to meet this demand include a four-fold increase in nuclear energy production by 2020," Downer said in a statement.

Australia, which has about 40 percent of the world's uranium but only mines a fraction of the metal, restricts exports to 36 countries that have signed a bilateral nuclear safeguards deal.

"Opening up this export opportunity with China is consistent with the growing trade and economic relationship between our two countries, and Australia's position as a secure supplier of energy resources," Downer said.

Australian Industry and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said last month he hoped a deal could be reached within a year, but government sources said a pact could be agreed by Christmas.

Macfarlane announced last week that the country's remote Northern Territory would be opened up to new uranium mining, allowing Australia to exploit strong demand for the fuel used in most of the world's nuclear power plants.

Australia exported 7,765 tonnes of uranium in 2004 worth more than A$410 million ($308 million). Australia is the world's number two exporter of uranium after Canada.

Uranium prices have more than tripled in the past five years to record highs, in step with higher oil prices, as nuclear energy emerges as an alternative source to fossil fuels.

Australia has three uranium mines, which are owned by BHP Billiton Ltd./Plc, Rio Tinto Ltd./Plc and General Atomics of the United States. ($US1=A$1.32)

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