Australia and India signed a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement in New Delhi last month that will allow India to purchase uranium from Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the deal Sept. 5 during Abbott’s visit to India. Modi hailed the agreement as a “historical milestone” in the relationship between the two countries.
A description of the agreement released by Modi’s office said the agreement will “promote cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and that Australia will provide “long-term reliable supplies of uranium” to India. The text of the agreement has not been released.
Abbott said India has an “impeccable” nonproliferation record and that Australia had received commitments from New Delhi that the uranium supplied to India would be used for civilian purposes and not the development of nuclear weapons.
Australia and India began negotiations on the agreement more than two years ago, after Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard proposed lifting the country’s ban on uranium sales to India in 2011. Australia’s Labor Party voted in favor of the proposal in December 2011. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)
Australia, one of the world’s largest producers of uranium ore, is a party to the Treaty of Rarotonga, which established a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the South Pacific. Under the treaty, parties are obligated to ensure that nuclear technology and materials are exported only to countries “subject to the safeguards required by Article III.1” of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
India is not a party to the NPT, but negotiated a limited safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2008. This means that the IAEA has access to some but not all of India’s nuclear facilities.
India’s safeguards agreement helped pave the way for an exemption from the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 to allow the group’s member states, including Australia, to export uranium and other nuclear goods to India. The rules of the voluntary regime generally prohibit nuclear exports to countries that are outside the NPT.
In July of this year, India ratified an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, which Australia said was a precondition for any agreement.
The additional protocol, which India negotiated with the IAEA in 2009, is a voluntary measure that does not include many of the key provisions included in the IAEA Model Additional Protocol. It does not give the IAEA the authority to inspect undeclared facilities or require India to report on all of its nuclear fuel-cycle research and development. (See ACT, April 2009.) Australia’s Liberal Party opposed lifting the ban on sales to India in 2011 in part because India’s additional protocol does not meet the standards of full-scope safeguards required under the Treaty of Rarotonga.
In addition to mining its own uranium ore, India imports natural uranium from Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Namibia.
India also is negotiating a nuclear cooperation with Japan. While visiting Japan last month, Modi said on Sept. 1 that he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed negotiators to “work expeditiously to conclude” a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. Modi said the negotiators had made “significant progress” over the past few months.
India and Japan began negotiating the agreement in 2010. The talks were interrupted by the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, but resumed in May 2013.
As part of any agreement, Japan has said it wants India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and pledge not to reprocess spent nuclear fuel produced using technology or materials obtained from Tokyo. Reprocessing produces plutonium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.