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Foreign Minister wants to sell uranium to Russia; Shadow Minister wants conditions on its sale; minor parties oppose selling it.

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Friday 17 August 2007

Foreign Minister wants to sell uranium to Russia; Shadow Minister wants conditions on its sale; minor parties oppose selling it


MARK COLVIN: With the dust yet to settle on plans to sell Australian uranium to India, the minor parties are leading the charge against the Federal Government's suggestion that Russia, too, could buy our yellowcake. 


The Government says discussions about a pact to sell uranium to Russia are well advanced. 


It's hoping that a deal could even be ready to announce when President Vladimir Putin comes to Australia for next month's APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) gathering.  


But the Greens and the Democrats say that Russia may be a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but its nuclear track record is one step short of disastrous. 


Labor, meanwhile, is saying it's happy to look at uranium sales to Russia, but only with stringent safeguards attached, and a strengthening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 


Barney Porter reports. 


BARNEY PORTER: The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says he's confident Australian uranium sold to Russia won't end up in a third country, such as Iran. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: In the same way as we have nuclear safeguards agreements with other countries, it would be a breach of international law if they were to try to do that. I don't think Russia would want to become a rogue state and break international law, it would lead to a collapse in their relations with Australia and probably with an awful lot more countries. I don't think there's any danger of that. 


BARNEY PORTER: That's not the view of the Democrats' leader, Senator Lyn Allison. She's described Russia's reputation on nuclear management as 'deplorable', with extensive areas contaminated by the dumping of nuclear waste and an estimated 1,000 kilograms of highly enriched uranium fuel unaccounted for.  


LYN ALLISON: So it's not the time to be adding to Russia's supply of uranium, especially given that Russia has 10,000 nuclear weapons and hasn't made any progress on disarmament in the last decade or so. 


But, look, even if it didn't do that, what we know is that Australian uranium will displace weapons material that might go into nuclear power facilities, reactors, and instead will be diverted to weapons. 


BARNEY PORTER: And the Greens' leader, Bob Brown, has also come out swinging. 


BOB BROWN: Our uranium going to Russia will free up its uranium to be used in the nuclear weapons manufacture. 


The availability of Australian uranium simply frees up the resource tension in Russia to enable its nuclear industries to expand, and that includes its nuclear weapons making industry. 


BARNEY PORTER: However, Mr Downer has dismissed these arguments as a scare campaign.  


Labor, meanwhile, is backing the Government's plans, but only if there are tough pre-conditions. 


Foreign Affairs Spokesman Robert McClelland says these should include a renewed Russian commitment to nuclear disarmament, a commitment not to re-sell fissile material, and all deals based on a transparent inspection regime. 


ROBERT MCCLELLAND: I think, generally, the nuclear non-proliferation regime needs to be revisited, reinvigorated and strengthened because it is such a significant issue. And I think it's now the time for the international community to really work at reinvigorating that arrangement. 


BARNEY PORTER: Are you saying that Labor would insist on that treaty being revamped, revisited before a Labor government would consider selling uranium to Russia? 


ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Well, the agreement, the nuclear non-proliferation regime, already requires signatories to it, and Russia is to commit to disarmament, we would want to see Russia acknowledge that decision and acknowledge their obligations of disarmament under the treaty, and also of course their obligations against further proliferation. 


BARNEY PORTER: But despite Labor's enthusiasm for stronger international regimes and treaties, Senator Allison remains sceptical they'd make a difference. 


LYN ALLISON: I don't think those guarantees are worth the paper they're written on, quite frankly. 


Australia could not possibly have people in all of the countries it's now talking about dealing with, in India, in China, in Russia, watching that our uranium doesn't go into nuclear weapons. 


BARNEY PORTER: As the pre-election debate rages, Mr Downer says uranium exports to India are several years away, but the Government is hopeful of signing an agreement with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of next month's APEC meeting, which may see Australian uranium on its way to Russia by early next year.  


MARK COLVIN: Barney Porter.