The prime minister announced today that Australia is set to overturn its ban on uranium sales to India, a non-signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The reason why she's doing this is simple, Barack Obama asked her — because it's good for the US economy. Noel Wauchope reports.
Australia is under overseas pressure on matters nuclear from the USA, India and China — to name the countries most concerned right now.
Poor Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd — they mustn’t know which way to turn with these competing pressures. And this morning, just back from canoodling with Barack Obama at APEC, Julia Gillard has written an op ed piece in The Age, that comes out and suddenly says it's time for Australia to send uranium to India — which we currently don't do as responsible global citizens, since India is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Consequently, most attention is now focused on the U.S.A. and India. China’s pressure is quieter, but more about them later — after we consider the more publicised relationship with USA and India.
Australia and the U.S.A.
As Australia’s biggest trading partner, one would expect that China would be receiving top consideration from the Australian government, but hey — Australia has to be nice to USA, doesn’t it? As we all know, it’s traditional that when USA yells “Jump!”, Australia responds “How high!?”
And so it is that, once again, the Australian government is in the process of jumping hurdles, as dictated by USA, however little sense that might make.
U.S. Military bases and U.S. nuclear technology exports
U.S. President Obama will very soon be in Darwin, together with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to announce the new, expanded, military base in Darwin. And why do we need this increased U.S. military presence in Australia? Why, to protect ourselves and the U.S.A. against China, of course! (Although Barack Obama did tell the American people that the main purpose was to provide jobs for Americans.)
As Laura Meckler wrote in the Wall Street Journal on 12/11/11 (emphasis mine):
President Barack Obama will announce an accord for a new and permanent U.S. military presence in Australia when he visits next week, a step aimed at countering China’s influence and reasserting U.S. interest in the region, said people familiar with his plans.
The weird part about all this is that in the very same edition of the Wall Street Journal, it was reported that U.S. nuclear companies are selling technology to China to help in its nuclear weapons program.
Wrote Brian Spegele:
"It's our first real entry into supporting this nuclear market, which for us is huge," said Thomas P. Mundy, president of Exelon Nuclear Partners, in an interview….
The cooperation with Exelon appears to be a significant pivot for CNNC, which in recent years unsuccessfully lobbied Beijing against embracing foreign nuclear technology standards. The company is also responsible for developing military nuclear capabilities for the People's Liberation Army.
China has embraced AP1000 reactor technology made by Toshiba Corp. unit Westinghouse.
So I guess that USA government is not so worried about China attacking them — or perhaps they feel they can have the satisfaction of knowing that they made some export money out of it all if the worst does happen.
And now to India
Australia still refuses to sell uranium to India, due to Australia’s policy of not selling uranium to countries that are not participants in the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.
There is much press coverage about how upset India is, about this. However, as it turns out, it is not all that important. According to Indian experts, such as Dr M.V. Ramana, who spoke on the ABC ‘National Interest’ programme last week, this issue is “purely symbolic” — as India does not need Australia’s uranium, having its own supplies and several other countries who do export to India. Also, India's grand nuclear future doesn't look too bright as domestic opposition to new nuclear power plants is growing stronger all the time in the Republic.
Chillingly, Professor Ramana reminds us that by selling uranium to India, Australia would promote its nuclear weapons development, in that Australian uranium for “peaceful” purposes would simply free up India’s uranium for its weapons program.
But now, Australia is coming under intense pressure from the U.S.A. to change its policy on uranium sales to India. Why? Well, the U.S. was foremost in the pressure on the Nuclear Suppliers Group to grant the exemptions that now permit sale of nuclear technology to India. The U.S. is intently pushing India to change its Nuclear Liability Law — to enable technology sales to India.
Yes, it comes back to the USA’s determination to make money out of nuclear technology. While USA’s domestic nuclear industry founders – unable to get investment for new nuclear reactors – its big hope is in selling nuclear technology to “developing” countries — India, China, anybody!
And, finally, China
Australia might have some reservations about China’s human rights record, among other matters, but not when it comes to business, especially selling them iron ore, gas and uranium.
As reported in Bloomberg on Nov 13:
…Michael McKinley, a lecturer in international relations at the Australian National University in Canberra [says] “China is the elephant in the room for Obama and Gillard.”
….Wen Jiabao signed a long-term contract for A$100 billion ($101 billion) in uranium during a 2006 visit....
....China bought $2.32 billion worth of uranium from Australia from 2006 to 2010, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as part of the contract signed during Wen’s April 2006 visit, while then Prime Minister John Howard came away from Shenzhen in southern China after witnessing the first Australian delivery of liquefied natural gas worth A$25 billion over 25 years....
….Two-way trade between the nations in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 reached A$110 billion, up 22 per cent from the year before, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Since overtaking Japan as the biggest buyer of Australia’s iron ore in 2004, China now purchases an amount of the steel-making material from Australia that’s more than four times than its Asian rival....
And China’s continued merry Australian resources hunt, as described in the Business Spectator on Remembrance Day:
...China’s cabinet approved a plan to reduce carbon intensity in 2015 by 17 per cent from 2005 levels, the Chinese settled on a bid price for UK-based Kalahari Resources, which is the majority shareholder in Perth-based uranium explorer Extract Resources...
And in the Northern Territory, according to the NT News, the Government has the welcome mat well and truly out for China to buy our uranium:
TERRITORY Resources Minister Kon Vatskalis has told Chinese mining conference delegates there were many uranium mining investment opportunities in the Territory for the next decade....
Mr Vatskalis said since the start of a government strategy to increase Chinese investment, there had been 16 agreements signed between Chinese and Territory companies and 53 exploration licences granted to Chinese exploration companies with $157 million in publicly announced deals.
There have been 21 Chinese companies investment in exploration and mining in the Territory.
He said that there was great potential for uranium mines, with a prime example being a majority equity investment in the Energy Metal Bigrlyi project in the Ngalia Central Australian mine by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group....
Meanwhile, for Australia, the further development of India’s nuclear arsenal should mean some anxiety about the likely further development of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Well, perhaps Australia should sell uranium to Pakistan, too?
China buys our uranium, as it is a member of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty — but perhaps China will be less than delighted to see Australia stepping outside that Treaty, kowtowing to USA, and furthering the nuclear weapons of its rival, India?