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The origins of Australia's uranium export policy

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Introduction ....................................................................................................................................... 1

The development of Australia’s uranium export policy ....................................................................... 1

1950s and 1960s ....................................................................................................................... 2

1970s ....................................................................................................................................... 3

Aboriginal land rights ........................................................................................................... 6

Kakadu National Park ........................................................................................................... 7

The anti-uranium movement ............................................................................................... 7

The Ranger environmental inquiry ....................................................................................... 8

A formal uranium export policy ................................................................................................ 9

Conclusion ........................................................................................................................................ 12

BACKGROUND NOTE 2 December 2011

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy

Marty Harris Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy



Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on 15 November 2011 that she would seek to use the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) December 2011 National Conference to alter the Party’s position on uranium exports, in order to allow the export of Australian uranium to India.1 Current ALP policy does not permit the export of Australian nuclear material to countries that have not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).2 India has not signed, nor is it likely to sign, the NPT as it currently stands.3

In 2007, the federal Coalition moved away from one of the tenets of Australia’s decades old uranium export policy—not to sell uranium to countries unless they had signed the NPT—when the then Prime Minister John Howard announced that the export of uranium to India would be allowed under ‘strict conditions’.4 At the time, Prime Minister Howard cited India’s democratic government, growing regional power, rising energy needs and ‘strong non-proliferation record’, as well as global environmental challenges, and Australia’s desire to strengthen bilateral relations with India as reasons for changing Australia’s uranium export policy.5

The current debate amongst Australian policy makers and commentators on whether or not to sell Australian uranium to India, and the subsequent changes required to Australia’s uranium export policy, has sparked interest in the origins of Australia’s uranium export policy. This Background Note examines the development of Australia’s uranium export policy up until its formalisation in the late 1970s.

The development of Australia’s uranium export policy

This section looks at the development of Australia’s uranium export policy and Australia’s stance on multilateral nuclear non-proliferation efforts between the 1950s and late 1970s.6

1. J Gillard (Prime Minister), Australian Labor Party; ALP National Conference; Uranium exports to India; Same-sex marriage; President Obama, media release, 15 November 2011, viewed 30 November 2011,

2. Australian Labor Party (ALP), National Platform and Constitution 2009, ALP, Canberra, chapter 3, pp. 18-19, viewed 30 November 2011, 3. United Nations Treaties Collection, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, participants, UNTS vol no. 729, 25 May 1970, viewed 30 November 2011, 4. J Howard (Prime Minister), Supply of uranium to India, media release, 16 August 2007, viewed 30 November 2011,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2F1E0O6%22 5. Ibid.

6. For a discussion of Australian policy on the development of a domestic nuclear power industry and nuclear weapons throughout these decades, see A Cawte, Atomic Australia: 1944-1990, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 1992; and R Broinowski, Fact or fission: the truth about Australia’s nuclear ambitions, Scribe, Melbourne, 2003.

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


1950s and 1960s

Australia first began mining and milling uranium on an extensive scale in the mid-1950s. Following requests from the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) Governments, large-scale exploration for uranium in Australia began in 1944.7 The Rum Jungle uranium deposit in the Northern Territory was discovered in 1949, the decision to mine the site was taken in 1952, and the mine began operating in 1954. Similarly, Radium Hill in South Australia was recommissioned in 1954 as a uranium mine.8 Both these sites were contracted to supply uranium oxide concentrate to the US-UK Combined Development Agency, for use in both countries’ nuclear weapons programs.9 The much larger Mary Kathleen deposit in Queensland, was discovered in 1954, and a mine on the site began operating in 1958.10 At the opening of Rum Jungle the then Prime Minister Robert Menzies was quoted as saying:

Whatever we may think about atomic bombs and their terrible subsequent development, let us understand quite plainly and realistically that part of our security in the present tremulous condition of world safety depends upon the superiority of the Free World in terms of these dreadful instruments. And Australia, by making a contribution of this kind ... is itself making a powerful contribution to international defence.11

These three mines, along with the smaller deposits in the South Alligator Valley (Northern Territory), constituted the first phase of uranium mining and export in Australia.12 Production at all mines ceased by 1964, with the exception of Rum Jungle, which did not close until 1971. Prior to their closure, more than 7700 tonnes of uranium was mined and supplied both to the Combined Development Agency and the UK Atomic Energy Authority.13 The global uranium market collapsed in the 1950s, due to an oversupply of material for nuclear weapons production and the unanticipated delay in the development of commercial scale electricity generation from nuclear reactors.

7. Cawte, op. cit., p. 4; and Broinowski, op. cit., pp. 20-21. 8. Uranium deposits at Radium Hill were first discovered in 1906, and deposits were mined on a small scale up to 1931, principally as a source of radium for medical use. Cited in Primary Industries and Resources SA (PIRSA), Uranium deposits in South Australia, Government of South Australia, PIRSA website, viewed 30 November 2011, 9. Senate Select Committee on Uranium Mining and Milling in Australia, Uranium mining and milling in Australia, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, May 1997, p. 1. 10. Geoscience Australia, Uranium fact sheet, Geoscience Australia website, no date, viewed 30 November 2011, 11. Quoted in Cawte, Atomic Australia, op. cit., p. 81. 12. For information on the South Alligator sites see Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and

Communities, Uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers region: South Alligator Valley, Government of South Australia, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website, updated 25 March 2011, viewed 30 November 2011, 13. The details of the amount the mines produced in this first phase, and who purchased the uranium, is available in AD McKay and Y Miezitis, Australia’s uranium: resources, geology and development of deposits, Geosciences Australia, Canberra, 2001, p. 10, viewed 30 November 2011,

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


Previously signed contracts meant that the three mines continued to produce and export uranium through the glut.14


Advancements in nuclear power generation and the development of civilian nuclear power industries in some countries led to a second boom in the uranium market in the late 1960s and 1970s. While the price for uranium oxide was still low (US$6 a pound in 1971, compared to peaks of US$11 per pound in the 1950s (both figures are current prices)), there was a very strong perception that the use of uranium for civilian power generation would increase sharply, thus increasing demand.15 This belief was given extra impetus following the first oil shock in 1973, in which the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reduced global oil supplies following the 1973 Middle East War. Oil prices rose rapidly, and more countries embarked on civilian nuclear power programs (especially Japan and France) as a means to insulate themselves against future oil shocks.16

Large new deposits were found quickly in the Northern Territory, using new geophysical technologies. Ranger was discovered in 1969, closely followed by Nabarlek and Koongarra in 1970, and the Jabiluka deposit in 1971. Of these, Ranger, with a uranium deposit of more than 100 000 tonnes, would become one of the largest uranium deposits ever discovered.17 The Mary Kathleen mine in Queensland was also recommissioned, with operations resuming at that location in 1976. Six sales contracts were signed between August 1970 and November 1972, with 10 440 short tonnes of contracted uranium to be delivered between 1974 and 1983; mostly to Japan.18 Other events, however, would put a hold on the development of new uranium mines and export contracts.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) opened for signature on 1 July 1968, and on that date was signed by the US, UK, Soviet Union and 59 other countries. While the NPT was still being drafted, Paul Hasluck, Australia’s Minister for External Affairs in the Gorton Government at that time, tabled a statement in Parliament on 26 March 1968 voicing the Government’s criticisms of the NPT as the draft then stood:

14. Ibid., p. 10. 15. Ibid., p. 6; uranium prices from Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Uranium process monthly from January 1971 to October 2005, not published, statistics held by the Parliamentary Library. 16. On Japan see World Nuclear Association, Nuclear power in Japan, World Nuclear Assoctiation website, updated

November 2011, viewed 30 November 2011,; on France see J Palfreman, ‘Why the French like nuclear power,’ Nuclear reaction: why do Americans fear nuclear power? PBS Online, no date, viewed 30 November 2011, 17. In 1976 the Ranger deposit was thought to contain at least 85 000 tonnes; see RW Fox, Ranger uranium

environmental inquiry: first report (First Fox Report), Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1976, Table 6, p. 60. Between 1981 and 2011, Ranger produced more than 100 000 tonnes of uranium. 18. These contracts are listed in Senator J Keeffe (Deputy Leader of the Opposition), ‘Speech: Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry,’ Senate, Debates, 6 December 1976, p. 2663, Appendix 4, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


... the draft treaty has many implications for Australia and has to be examined very carefully.

... the basic approach of the Australian Government is that we want an effective and equitable treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, provided that it does not endanger our future national security and hamper our development, and we therefore want the nations of the world to arrive at a text of an effective treaty which we can support and adhere to.

Some of the controls over nuclear activity for military purposes could apply so as to prevent activity by Australia for non-military purposes because those non-military purposes might be considered also to have military applications. For example, would the treaty prevent the development and production in Australia of nuclear fuels and methods of nuclear propulsion which could be of great civil use but which could also be of military use or a step towards production of nuclear weapons? 19

On 28 May 1968 Hasluck, in a response to a Parliamentary question on the draft NPT document, again voiced the Australian Government’s reserved position on the NPT:

We have not committed ourselves to a signature and the question whether the eventual draft of the treaty would be signed would be a matter to be decided by the Australian Government in the light of the circumstances at the time.20

Australia eventually signed the NPT on 27 February 1970, but refused to ratify it. An extensive statement explaining the Government’s reasons for signing but not ratifying the treaty was tabled in Parliament in March 1970.21 While the statement emphasised the Government’s nominal commitment to non-proliferation initiatives, it made clear the Government’s ‘outstanding concerns’ that would need to be resolved before ratification could occur.22 In relation to uranium exports, the statement noted that the ‘inspection and safeguards arrangements’ of the NPT ‘should not constitute an obstacle to a nation's economic development, commercial interests and trade’.23

19. P Hasluck (Minister for External Affairs), ‘Ministerial Statement: Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,’ House of Representatives, Debates, 26 March 1968, pp. 455-457, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf

20. P Hasluck (Minister for External Affairs), ‘Question without notice: Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,’ *Questioner: D Munro], House of Representatives, Debates, 28 May 1968, pp. 1613-1614, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf

21. K Anderson (Minister of Supply), ‘Speech: Nuclear non-proliferation treaty,’ Senate, Debates, 4 March 1970, pp. 42- 43, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansards80/1970-03-04/0175%22

22. Ibid., p. 43. 23. Ibid.

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


In the lead-up to the December 1972 federal election, the opposition Australian Labor Party made clear its position on ratifying the NPT. On 11 April 1972 the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Lance Barnard, told the House of Representatives that the ‘Labor Party policy explicitly prohibits nuclear weapons for Australia and supports the immediate ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.’24 The opposition won the election and the new Whitlam Labor Government ratified the NPT soon after it took office; depositing the document on 23 January 1973.25 Australia subsequently signed a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in July 1974, which, among other things, applied IAEA safeguards to all Australian nuclear material.26

The ALP was not, at this time, opposed to uranium exports or nuclear power—Labor’s 1971 platform called for the development of a domestic nuclear power industry and enrichment capabilities to add value to Australia’s uranium exports.27 Therefore the embargo placed on new uranium export contracts by the new Labor Minister for Minerals and Energy, Rex Connor, was based more on economic considerations than proliferation or environmental concerns.28 Connor felt that the growth in nuclear power capabilities and a squeeze on oil supply would see uranium prices rise dramatically, and wanted to wait till they did so before exporting large amounts of Australia’s uranium.29 And if Australia enriched its natural uranium before exporting it, it would, according to Connor, get ‘the proper price for it’.30

24. L Barnard (Deputy Leader of the Opposition), ‘Speech: Australian Defence,’ House of Representatives, Debates, 11 April 1972, p. 1443, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1972-04-11/0146%22

25. P Hasluck (Governor General), ‘Governor General’s speech,’ House of Representatives, Debates, 27 February 1973, p. 12, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1973-02-27/0040%22; and Australian Government, Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Treaty Series, 1973, no. 3, viewed 30 November 2011,

26. Australian Government, Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the Application of Safeguards in connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Treaty Series, 1974, no. 16, viewed 30 November 2011,

27. Senator C Evans, Labor and uranium: An evolution, speech delivered to the Labor Business Roundtable, Perth, 23 March 2007, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=applica tion%2Fpdf#search=%22media/pressrel/1AMM6%22

28. R Panter and P Kay, Chronology of ALP uranium policy: 1950-1994, Background Paper no. 17, Parliamentary Research Service, Canberra, 12 September 1994, p. 2, viewed 30 November 2011,

29. On Connor’s reasons for withholding uranium see, for example, R Connor (Minister for Minerals and Energy), ‘Response to a Question without notice: Atomic energy: Proposed uranium enrichment plant,’ *Questioner: R Jacobi+, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 May 1973, pp. 2164-2165, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf; and R Connor (Minister for Minerals and Energy), ‘Discussion of matter of public importance: Australian mining industry,’ House of Representatives, Debates,

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


In 1975 the embargo policy appeared to be paying off. Following the 1973 Oil Crisis and further developments in civilian nuclear power, the price of uranium (Triuranium octoxide (U3O8), or ‘yellowcake’) had increased from US$6 per pound in June 1971 to US$35 in December 1975, and prices would continue to rise for the rest of the 1970s.31 This coincided with substantial interest in Australian uranium by prospective buyers—Japan, Iran, Italy, and the European Economic Community (EEC)—adding pressure on the Government to remove the export embargo. On 31 October 1974 Minister Connor released a detailed statement on ‘Northern Territory uranium,’ which reauthorised the negotiation of uranium export contracts.32 Under this policy arrangement the Government would market the uranium, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission would carry out all future exploration, and the Government would acquire a 50 per cent interest in all ventures that originated with discoveries by private companies.33

Around this time, three other issues were developing that would also influence Australia’s uranium export and non-proliferation policy in the 1970s and in the years to come.

Aboriginal land rights

As part of its 1972 election platform, the Australian Labor Party promised to look into the issue of Aboriginal land rights, with Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam stating in November 1972:

We will legislate to give aborigines [sic] land rights—not just because their case is beyond argument, but because all of us as Australians are diminished while the aborigines [sic] are denied their rightful place in this nation.34

3 April 1973, p. 970 , viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1973-04-03/0101%22 30. R Conner (Minister for Minerals and Energy), ‘Discussion of matter of public importance: Minerals and energy policy,’

House of Representatives, Debates, 18 September 1974, p. 1140, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1973-09-18/0088%22 31. Prices would reach an historic high of US$43.25 per pound of yellowcake, in the first half of 1979, following the

Iranian Revolution and the second Oil Crisis; Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Uranium prices monthly from January 1971 to October 2005, unpublished data, statistics held by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library. 32. R Connor (Minister for Minerals and Energy), ‘Speech: Northern Territory uranium,’ House of Representatives, Debates, 31 October 1974, p. 3167, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1974-10-31/0071%22; also available in Department of Foreign Affairs, Australian Foreign Affairs Record, November 1974, Commonwealth of Australia , Canberra, pp. 741-743. 33. Ibid., Department of Foreign Affairs. 34. G Whitlam, It’s time for leadership, Policy speech for the Australian Labor Party, 13 November 1972, viewed 30 November 2011,

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


In February 1973 the Whitlam Government appointed the Woodward Royal Commission to look into ‘the appropriate means to recognise and establish the traditional rights and interests of the Aborigines in and in relation to land’.35 Justice Woodward’s final report, published in April 1974, recommended that, among other things, all Aboriginal reserve lands should be returned to the Aboriginal inhabitants, that Aboriginal Australians had claim to other vacant crown land if they could prove traditional ties, and that mining and other developments on Aboriginal land should proceed only with the permission of the Aboriginal land owners.36 Many of the prospective uranium deposits were located either on Aboriginal reserves or on land that was thought would be subject to land claims. This would impact on future uranium mining and export. The recommendations of the Woodward Royal Commission resulted in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, passed by Parliament under the Coalition Fraser Government in 1976.

Kakadu National Park

The second issue was the proposal to establish Kakadu National Park. A national park in the Alligator Rivers area of the Northern Territory had been proposed as early as the mid-1960s, and the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 saw the creation of Kakadu in stages from 1979. 37 The main Northern Territory uranium discoveries of the 1970s—Jabiluka, Ranger and Koongarra, were all within the region proposed for the park—and the land bounded by the mining leases would be excluded from, and surrounded by, the National Park in 1979.38

The anti-uranium movement

Finally, there was emergent public concern for the environment, and, especially from the early 1970s onward, the development of the anti-uranium movement. Sparked partly by French atmospheric nuclear testing in the Pacific, groups such as the Friends of the Earth and the Australian Conservation Foundation began to draw links between uranium mining and nuclear weapons, and to;fileType=applic ation%2Fpdf#search=%22library/partypol/1022125%22 35. AE Woodward, Aboriginal Land Rights Commission: first report, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, July 1973, p. 2. 36. E Woodward, Aboriginal Land Rights Commission: second report, Australian Government Publishing Service,

Canberra, April 1974, p. 134. 37. See M Cass (Minister for the Environment and Conservation), ‘Second Reading Speech: National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Bill 1974,’ House of Representatives, Debates, 2 October 1974, pp. 2075, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1974-10-02/0110%22 38. The development of the Kakadu National Park is covered in detail in D Lawrence, Kakadu: the making of a National Park, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, 2000.

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


highlight the possible environmental impact of uranium mining. The movement against uranium mining would have a significant impact on the ALP’s platform.39

The Ranger environmental inquiry

These and many other pressures led to the announcement by the Whitlam Government on 16 July 1975 of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, headed by the Chief Judge of the ACT Supreme Court, Russell Walter Fox. The terms of reference for the inquiry focused specifically on ‘all environmental aspects’ of the proposed Ranger uranium mine.40 It accepted submissions concerning whether Australia should mine/export uranium at all, and this issue became the major subject of the Commissioners’ first report, released in October 1976.41 This report would lead to the formalisation of Australia’s uranium export and non-proliferation policy, and has been described as the ‘foundation for current policy on uranium mining in Australia’.42

By the time the first report was released, the Fraser Coalition Government had come to power. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had voiced support for uranium mining while Leader of the Opposition, but said that he would not issue a uranium export policy until Justice Fox had released his report(s).43 Deputy Prime Minister (and Minister for National Resources), Doug Anthony, likewise maintained that ‘nothing can be finalised until the Fox committee reports on its environmental inquiry’.44

Justice Fox’s first report highlighted a number of concerns relating to the export of uranium and nuclear proliferation, focusing on the safeguards required under the NPT. The Commission summed up the ‘main limitations and weaknesses of the present safeguards arrangements’:

The failure of many states to become parties to the NPT; the inability of safeguards to prevent the transfer of nuclear technology from nuclear power production to the acquisition of nuclear weapons competence; the fact that many nuclear facilities are covered by no safeguards; the existence of a number of loopholes in safeguards agreements regarding their application to peaceful nuclear

39. On the development of the anti-nuclear movement in Australia see J Falk, Global fission: The battle over nuclear power, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1982, pp. 256-284; for information on changes to Labor’s uranium policy over the years see Senator C Evans, op. cit.

40. RW Fox, Ranger uranium environmental inquiry: first report (First Fox Report), Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1976, p. 1. 41. Ibid. 42. Senate Select Committee on uranium mining and milling in Australia, op. cit., p. 7. 43. M Fraser (Prime Minister), ‘Response to a Question without notice: Uranium,’ *Questioner: P Richardson+, House of

Representatives, Debates, 30 March 1976, p. 1091, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1976-03-30/0021%22 44. D Anthony (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Natural Resources), ‘Response to a Question without notice:

Uranium,’ *Questioner: F O’Keefe+, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 March 1976, p. 1096, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1976-03-30/0088%22

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


explosions, to materials intending for non-explosive military purposes, and to the retransfer of materials to a third state; the absence, in practice, of safeguards for source material; the practical problems of maintaining checks on nuclear inventories; the ease with which states can withdraw from the NPT and from most non-NPT safeguards agreements; deficiencies in accounting and warning procedures; and the absence of reliable sanctions to deter diversion of safeguarded material.45

Fox and his fellow Commissioners concluded that these problems, when combined, ‘are so serious that existing safeguards may provide only an illusion of protection.’46 However, the report gave ‘cautious’ or ‘qualified’ approval to uranium exports from a non-proliferation perspective,47 with the ‘findings and recommendations’ of relevance being:

3. The nuclear power industry is unintentionally contributing to an increased risk of nuclear war. This is the most serious hazard associated with the industry.


6. A decision to mine and sell uranium should not be made unless the Commonwealth Government ensures that [it] can at any time, on the basis of considerations of the nature discussed in this Report, immediately terminate those activities, permanently, indefinitely or for a specific period.

7. Policy respecting Australian uranium exports, for the time being at least, should be based on a full recognition of the hazards, dangers and problems of and associated with the production of nuclear energy, and should therefore seek to limit or restrict expansion of that production.

8. No sales of Australian uranium should take place to any country not party to the NPT. Export should be subject to the fullest and most effective safeguards agreements, and supported by fully adequate back-up safeguards applying to the entire civil nuclear industry in the country supplied. Australia should work towards the adoption of this policy by other suppliers [of nuclear material].48

The second report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry dealt mostly with local environmental issues and the impact of Aboriginal land rights legislation.49

A formal uranium export policy

The Fraser Government responded to the Fox reports in May 1977, and the uranium export policy that resulted went on to form the basis of Australia’s policy for the next three decades. On 24 May 1977 Prime Minister Fraser tabled a Parliamentary Paper which outlined the Government’s safeguards and uranium export policy. It contained the following basic components:

45. RW Fox, op. cit., p. 147. 46. Ibid. 47. ‘Fox with a nuclear bite,’ New Scientist, 18 November 1976, viewed 30 November 2011,

48. RW Fox, op. cit., p. 185. 49. RW Fox, Ranger uranium environmental inquiry: second report (Second Fox Report), Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1977.

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


1. Careful selection of the countries to whom uranium export will be permitted:

- In the case of non-nuclear weapon states, sales will be made only to countries which are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—it follows that Australia’s customers in this category will be countries which have renounced the nuclear weapons option and which accept IAEA safeguards, covering the whole of their civil nuclear industry;

- In the case of existing nuclear weapons states, Australia requires as a condition of agreement with those states, as assurance that nuclear material supplied for peaceful purposes will not be

diverted to military or explosive purposes and that it will be covered by IAEA safeguards


2. The prior conclusion of bilateral agreements with countries wishing to import Australian uranium. In addition to the undertaking that nuclear material supplied by Australia for peaceful purposes will not be diverted to military or explosive purposes, and that IAEA safeguards will apply, other provisions will include:

- So called fallback safeguards—these are contingency arrangements to ensure the continued safeguarding of material already present in an importing country in case safeguards under the NPT at some stage cease to apply;

- Prior Australian consent to any transfer of the supplied nuclear material to a third party;

- Prior Australian consent to enrichment of supplied uranium beyond 20 per cent uranium 235 [that is, to levels termed ‘highly enriched uranium’+;

- Prior Australian consent to reprocessing of supplied nuclear material;

- Adequate physical security on the nuclear issues of importing countries.

3. Sale arrangements for Australian uranium such that the uranium will be in the form which attracts full IAEA safeguards by the time it leaves Australian ownership.

4. Inclusion in commercial contracts for uranium supply of a clause noting that the transaction is subject to the provisions of the bilateral agreement between the Australian Government and the importing country.

5. Australia’s contributing to constructive multilateral efforts to strengthen safeguards

6. Recognition of the need to keep safeguards closely under review to take account of the future evolution of international thinking on the subject. 50

According to the Parliamentary Paper, this safeguards policy was ‘more rigorous than that adopted to date by any other nuclear supplier country’.51

50. Australia, Parliament, Uranium: Australian policy 1977, Parl. Paper 198, Canberra, 1977, p. 101.

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


This document was accompanied by a speech from the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives, who, besides outlining the policy in detail, also made some general comments on the thinking behind the new policy:

... It is clear that there is widespread international concern to establish a framework of control within which the benefits which many countries see in the peaceful use of nuclear energy can be safely realised. These are issues of major international importance in their own right, but they have added significance for Australia because of our potential as a major supplier of uranium.


[S]afeguards for future Australian uranium exports would comprise, as well as the application of international safeguards [administered by the IAEA] in [a] strict sense, the securing from importing countries of adequate assurances regarding the use and control of supplied nuclear material and the conclusion of binding arrangements to give effect to such assurances.52

Thus, Australia’s uranium export policy was formalised and uranium exports were able to begin once again (subject to the above conditions). Exports of uranium ores and concentrates resumed in 1980, and by 1982, Australia had signed the required bilateral safeguards agreements with 10 parties or entities—South Korea, the UK, Finland, Canada, Sweden France, Euratom (the atomic energy agency of the European Union), Philippines, Japan and the USA—allowing cooperation on the use of nuclear material.53 By 1986, exports were worth $373 million (current prices).54

In the same year that the Fraser Government announced its uranium export policy and gave the go-ahead for exports to resume, the ALP had, at its July 1977 National Conference, adopted its ‘moratorium’ policy, which meant that an elected Labor government would prevent uranium mining and ‘repudiate any contracts’ signed by the Coalition Government on the mining and export of uranium.55 The ALP modified its policy following its return to government in 1983, and at the 1984 ALP National Conference the Party adopted the ‘three mines policy’.56 Under this revised policy, a federal ALP Government would allow uranium to be mined and exported from three ‘named’ mines,

51. Ibid., p. 102. 52. M Fraser (Prime Minister), ‘Ministerial statement: Government policy on nuclear safeguards,’ House of Representatives, Debates, 24 May 1977, pp. 1700-1705, viewed 30 November 2011,

24/toc_pdf/19770524_reps_30_hor105.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22hansard80/hansardr80/1977-05-24/0003%22 53. The text of all Australia’s bilateral safeguards agreements are available at: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia’s network of nuclear safeguards agreements, DFAT website, no date, viewed 29 November 2011, 54. DFAT, Exports of major commodities time series: 1978 to 1995, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 1996, p. 18. 55. Senator C Evans, op. cit. 56. Detail on the ‘three mines policy’ is available in Australian Labor Party (ALP), Australian Labor Party Platform,

Constitution and Rules as approved by the 36th National Conference, Canberra, 1984, ALP National Secretary, Canberra, July 1984, pp. 174-178, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=applic ation%2Fpdf#search=%22library/partypol/1032125%22

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


with exports to occur under the same or very similar conditions to those adopted by the Fraser Government in 1977.57

Thus the uranium export policy adopted in 1977 was able to substantively endure through the 1980s, 1990s and most of the 2000s, effectively until 2007.


The 2007 decision by the Howard Government represented a significant change in a long-held, and largely bipartisan, Australian uranium export policy.58 The Rudd Labor Government, following its election in November 2007, reinstated a policy of not exporting uranium to countries that had not ratified the NPT.59 A majority vote at the ALP National Conference in December 2011, allowing Australian uranium to be exported to India, would again be an equally significant change.

The formal policy announced by Prime Minister Fraser in 1977 has remained remarkably resilient.60 Should Australia commence uranium exports to India, it too will likely be under conditions quite similar to those instituted by Prime Minister Fraser in 1977, with the one omission being that India has not signed the NPT.

57. Paragraph 57 of the 1984 Australian Labor Party Platform contains the conditions of uranium export under a federal ALP Government—these include observation of the NPT, a bilateral safeguards agreement with Australia, and the ratification of a safeguards agreement with the IAEA; Ibid., pp. 176-77.

58. J Howard, Supply of uranium to India, op. cit. 59. See for example S Smith (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Transcript of doorstop interview: 15 January 2008: attack on Serena Hotel in Kabul; Australia-India relations; budget savings measures, media release, 15 January 2008, viewed 30 November 2011,;fileType=application %2Fpdf#search=%22media/pressrel/LGFP6%22 60. Additions were made to the policy in terms of non-proliferation. An example of these additions was the requirement that all countries receiving Australian uranium must sign an ‘Additional Protocol’ safeguards agreement with the

IAEA; DFAT, Nuclear exports and safeguards: Australia’s uranium export policy, DFAT website, no date, viewed 30 November 2011, ‘Additional Protocol’ safeguards agreements with the IAEA give that agency greater rights to information and inspection of nuclear sites; for more information see IAEA, Factsheets & FAQs: IAEA safeguards overview: Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements and Additional Protocols, IAEA website, no date, viewed 30 November 2011,

The origins of Australia’s uranium export policy


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