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Thursday, 31 October 1996
Page: 6356

(Question No. 641)


Mr Melham asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 10 September 1996:

(1) Do Australia's safeguards requirements specify that Australian uranium be sold only to countries who are parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

(2) Is Taiwan a party to the NPT.

(3) Do Australia's safeguards requirements demand that customers for Australian uranium apply full scope safeguards to their nuclear fuel cycles.

(4) Does the recently released report of the Canberra Commission recommend that the importance of nuclear export controls is acknowledged in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference and that new supply arrangements should require acceptance of full scope safeguards as a necessary precondition, thereby specifying the full scope supply standard as the accepted global norm for nuclear supply.

(5) Does article 4(a) of the South Pacific Nuclear Zone Treaty impose a formal legal obligation not to provide fissionable material to any non-weapon state unless subject to article III.1 of the NPT, which means full scope safeguards.

(6) Has Taiwan a full scope safeguards agreement under INFCIRC/153 with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

(7) Is it possible for Taiwan to conclude an agreement.

(8) Does Australian safeguards policy require the conclusion of a bilateral safeguards agreement with customers for Australian uranium; if so, (a) when and with which countries have these agreements been signed and (b) has Australia signed an agreement with Taiwan.

(9) Given that Australia does not recognise the Taiwanese Government, how will an agreement with Taiwan be negotiated.

(10) If Australia seeks to sell uranium to Taiwan through means such as utilising US arrangements with that country, what impact will that have on the credibility of Australia's stringent safeguards regime.


Mr Downer —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Since 1977, Australia's policy on the export of uranium has specified that, in the case of non-nuclear weapon states, a minimum requirement is that they be a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Adherence to the NPT is approaching universality and is the most common way in which non-nuclear weapon states have expressed their internationally legally-binding commitments never to acquire nuclear weapons and to accept fullscope safeguards in order to verify this undertaking. Non-nuclear weapon states have expressed similar commitments in other international treaties such as the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which provides for a nuclear weapon free zone in Latin America and the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, or Treaty of Rarotonga, of which Australia is a signatory.

(2) Australia does not regard Taiwan as a state and therefore does not acknowledge it to be a party to the NPT. Before its expulsion from the United Nations in 1971, however, Taiwan (as the Republic of China) had both signed and ratified the NPT. Taiwanese authorities are understood to continue to consider Taiwan bound by the principles and obligations of the NPT. Taiwan expressed its support for the NPT in a statement welcoming the indefinite extension of the Treaty in 1995.

(3) Treaty-level obligations are placed on uranium exported from Australia and its derivatives in the international nuclear fuel cycle which are identified as Australian obligated nuclear material (AONM). These obligations provide that AONM may only be transferred where, in the case of non-nuclear weapon states, it will be subject to fullscope safeguards. The requirement that nuclear exports be covered by fullscope safeguards in non-nuclear weapon states has in recent years become the international norm and, for example, has been adopted as a supply standard by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In the case of transfers of AONM to nuclear weapon states Australia requires treaty-level assurances that AONM will only be used for peaceful purposes and arrangements must be in place under which AONM is subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

(4) The report of the Canberra Commission states that "The importance of nuclear export controls is acknowledged in the NPTREC `Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament'. These state that new supply arrangements should require acceptance of fullscope safeguards `as a necessary precondition', thereby clearly specifying the fullscope safeguards supply standard as the accepted global norm for nuclear supply."

(5) Article 4 (a) of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty imposes a legal obligation not to provide nuclear material unless subject to the safeguards required by Article III.1 of the NPT; that is fullscope safeguards.

(6) and (7) INFCIRC/153 is the commonly-used reference for the model safeguards agreement set out in the IAEA information circular with that designation. An INFCIRC/153-type safeguards agreement is the standard safeguards agreement which non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT are required to conclude with the IAEA. Taiwan does not have an INFCIRC/153-type safeguards agreement with the IAEA. In Taiwan, the Agency applies safeguards to nuclear facilities in Taiwan under a trilateral agreement between the IAEA, the United States and Taiwan (INFCIRC/158). The combination of these arrangements and bilateral arrangements between the United States and Taiwan results in the application of de facto fullscope safeguards in Taiwan.

(8) Yes.

(a) Republic of Korea (ROK)—   2 May 1979

United Kingdom—24 July 1979

Finland—9 February 1980

USA—16 January 1981

Canada—9 March 1981

Sweden—22 May 1981

France—12 September 1981

EURATOM—15 January 1982

Philippines—11 May 1982

Japan—17 August 1982

Switzerland—27 July 1988

Egypt—2 June 1989

USSR (now the Russian Federation)—24 December 1990

Mexico—17 July 1992

(b) No.

(9) Australia's one-China policy precludes the conclusion of a standard government-to-government bilateral safeguards agreement with Taiwan. The Government, like its predecessor, is considering possible alternative arrangements for ensuring the observance of Australia's safeguards conditions on any uranium exported from Australia to Taiwan. In response to a Senate Estimates question in 1995 on the Government's position with regard to uranium exports to Taiwan Senator Evans said: "It (uranium exports to Taiwan) is contingent on the conclusion of a satisfactory safeguards agreement. Part of the problem has been that, because Taiwan is not recognised as a sovereign independent country it has been a matter of finding a way around that basic technical difficulty. We have been trying to facilitate this trade by discussing with United States officials the equivalent of the Canada-US arrangement, which enables US safeguards coverage to apply to Canadian uranium sales to Taiwan following processing in the US. It may be that that offers us a way through a similar dilemma. We are interested in the Taiwan energy market. We have no reason to believe that a safeguards policy would not be applicable, recognised, enforced and applied in Taiwan. But there is a technical difficulty in setting up the formalised legal framework to make that work."

(10) If the Government decided to permit exports of uranium from Australia to Taiwan, the conclusion of sales contracts would be a matter between Australian uranium producers and customers in Taiwan. The Government would not permit such exports unless it had in place safeguards arrangements which were consistent with Australia's uranium export policy. It is in this context that the Government has been considering the possibility of utilising arrangements between the United States and Taiwan as a means of ensuring the application of strict safeguards conditions on any nuclear material exported from Australia to Taiwan. This possibility arises in part because such material would need to be enriched in the United States and so acquire US safeguards obligations. This was a proposal of the previous government, as indicated in the response to question (9). In essence, the approach has continued unchanged from that proposed over three years ago by Senator Evans.

Any Australian safeguards arrangements in respect of Taiwan would have to deal with the fact of Taiwan's particular status, as described in answer to question (2) above, and the fact that, as Australia does not recognise Taiwan as a state, it is simply not possible for Australia to have arrangements with Taiwan which are identical with the bilateral safeguards treaties Australia normally has with non-nuclear weapon states. It is, however, significant that other countries such as the United States and Canada, which share Australia's commitment to non-proliferation and strict safeguards, and which adhere to the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to ensure that their exports do not contribute to proliferation, regard Taiwan as an acceptable destination for nuclear exports. Taiwan has made clear its strong commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and has accepted international safeguards on all its nuclear activities. The Government's exploration of possible safeguards arrangements for Taiwan, even if these were in some respects unique, in no way diminishes the credibility of Australia's stringent safeguards regime or Australia's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.