Australian uranium bound for India
-Aussie inspectors must be allowed on site
-Two-hour debate in Cabinet
-PM to contact Indian counterpart
AUSTRALIA has decided to start uranium shipments to India with the condition that Australian inspectors be allowed to check on-site that the yellowcake is used only for peaceful purposes and electricity generation.
The Australian nuclear safety inspectors would check the "chain of supply" of nuclear material from Australia to India to ensure none was siphoned off into weapons programs.
The National Security Committee of federal cabinet decided last night, after more than two hours, to allow the uranium shipments to India, despite the subcontinental nuclear power not signing the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Australia has only recently decided to ship uranium to China for the first time.
The National Security Committee discussed ways for Australia to export uranium to India without contributing to nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan or assisting the spread of nuclear weapons.
John Howard will contact his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, who is also Minister for Atomic Energy, to explain the conditions before formally announcing the agreement.
The cabinet committee was under pressure to both allow India access to uranium - a process the US has offered to assist with - and defend its record on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
It is understood Mr Howard will be personally contacting Mr Singh as soon as possible.
Labor has accused the Howard Government of being prepared to water down strict controls on uranium exports and move away from the international agreements limiting nuclear weapons.
Pakistan has also asked for uranium to power its domestic electricity grid if India is sold it.
The Australian Government wants to help India with its peaceful energy needs but does not want to contribute to the nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan.
The decision comes as the ALP has committed to a scare campaign over nuclear power reactor sites in Australia.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday the fact India already had nuclear weapons meant "there is no risk" of contributing to nuclear proliferation by exporting uranium to the energy-hungry economy.
"I think the reverse in fact is the case - that the more you can get the India civil nuclear program under UN inspections and under the UN protocols of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the better," Mr Downer told the ABC. "I think that creates a safer and more secure environment for those power stations."
Labor foreign affairs spokesman Rob McClelland said any step towards uranium exports to India would be moving away from the NPT signed by Australia.
"We see that the Government is prepared to further undermine the NPT by selling uranium to India while that country remains outside the non-proliferation regime," he told the UN Association of Australia last night.
"The bottom line is that the Howard Government is worse than ambivalent when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation - it is positively obstructive."
Even the uranium industry has reserved judgment on the Government's support for uranium exports to India until it hears how the NPT can be protected.
Michael Angwin, executive director of the Australian Uranium Association, said Australia's policy of exporting uranium only to signatories to the treaty had been successful to date.
India now needs to win IAEA approval of its planned safeguards, the support of an international grouping of nuclear suppliers, and ratification of its nuclear co-operation agreement with the US. Only then can it do a bilateral deal with Australia to allow the uranium trade and start negotiating with local miners.
Last week Pakistan's Minister for Religious Affairs, Ejaz ul-Haq, said Australia should consider selling uranium to Pakistan as well. He rejected concerns Islamabad would use the uranium in nuclear weapons.
But Mr Downer ruled out selling uranium to Pakistan.