Australia-Russia bilateral opens door for uranium trade

07 September 2007

Australian and Russian premiers John Howard and Vladimir Putin have signed a bilateral safeguards agreement which, when ratified, will allow Australia to export its uranium to Russia.

Under an earlier agreement, Australian uranium could be processed in Russia in the interest of third countries only. The new agreement would allow Russian power reactors to generate electricity with nuclear fuel made using Australian uranium. "This new agreement will allow the supply of Australian uranium for use in Russia's civil nuclear power industry and provide a framework for broader cooperation on peaceful nuclear-related activities," prime minister Howard said.

Non-proliferation safeguards will need to be extended considerably in Russia to cover all facilities using Australian-obligated material. Russia is one of five nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but at present only one of its reactors is under voluntary international safeguards.

Both Howard and President Putin dismissed concerns that Russia would sell Australian uranium to third countries such as Iran. Putin said that increased uranium supplies were needed to support the ambitious scaling-up of Russia's nuclear power industry over the next 20 years.

The agreement is much the same as one between Australia and China, ratified earlier this year. Australia has also recently made an in-principle agreement with India, although Howard has made it clear that the Indian deal depends on the implementation of a bilateral agreement between the USA and India, which is currently awaiting political approval in those countries. Unlike Russia, India has not signed the NPT, although it is widely regarded as having excellent non-proliferation credentials. An agreement with India would mean scrapping Australia's policy of refusing exports to countries which have not signed the NPT, but Howard has said that many Australians would find it "strange" that it was acceptable to sell uranium to China - which has signed the NPT - but not to India.

Further information

WNA's Australia's Uranium and Who Buys It information paper
WNA's Nuclear Power in Russia information paper

WNN: Australia nears uranium deal with Russia
WNN: Australia wants trade with India