Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Some Spice Added to the Uranium Export Debate

By Ian Lowe

Do Australian uranium exports to India set a precedent for exports to other non-signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

There has been hot debate about the proposal by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to approve the sale of uranium to India. The previous government position has been to refuse to supply countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, thus excluding India as a non-signatory.

On the one hand, India can rightly say that it has not transferred nuclear weapons technology to any other state. On the other hand, India used a “peaceful” nuclear reactor and heavy water supplied for peaceful purposes to build its own nuclear weapons, triggering a retaliatory move from Pakistan. This has opened up the dangerous prospect of their traditional enmity turning into nuclear war.

Even if it is possible to quarantine Australian uranium and ensure it is only ever used in power reactors, that probably allows the use of alternative supplies in the weapons program. So it was hardly surprising that some of the PM’s party colleagues were unhappy with the announcement.

Ever since former Labor PM Bob Hawke introduced the “three mines policy”, which allowed him to support the biggest uranium mine in the world while still having a general policy of opposition to the mining and export of uranium, there has been an uneasy tension within the ALP on this issue.

On one side of the conflict are those, mainly on the left of the Party, who support the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.