Safeguarding the use of Australia's uranium exports

 

Key Points

  • The overriding objective of Australia’s policy on uranium exports, adopted in 1977, is ‘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.
  • Australia exports uranium only to countries that have both signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and entered into bilateral export treaties with Australia, including acceptance of an Additional Protocol imposing stricter conditions.
  • Only four countries are not signatories to the NPT: India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. 
  • Under the NPT, the International Atomic Energy Agency is charged with verifying that a country is living up to its international undertakings not to use nuclear power programmes for nuclear weapons purposes.
  • This safeguards system is based on assessment of the country’s declarations to the IAEA concerning nuclear material and nuclear-related activities by submitting nuclear materials, facilities and activities to the scrutiny of IAEA’s safeguards inspectors.
  • Australia’s bilateral export treaties add to this by requiring, among other things, fallback safeguards and prior Australian consent to re-export, enrichment and re-processing of Australian uranium.
  • Australia also plays a leading role in international and multilateral efforts to strengthen safeguards.
  • The Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) annual reports over many years have affirmed that no Australian uranium has been diverted away from peaceful purposes.
  • No evidence has been produced that contradicts or disproves ASNO’s statements that Australian uranium has never been diverted from civil nuclear power generation.
  • The safeguards system has detected a number of instances of proliferation activity by countries such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran; and led to multilateral actions to deal with the proliferating countries.

Notwithstanding the relative success of the Australian and international anti-proliferation programs, the Australian Uranium Association has urged the Australian government to play a leadership role in assuring the future success of the non-proliferation system.

The Association has welcomed and supported the Australian government’s establishment of an International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament to help make the 2010 review of the NPT a fruitful one.

In addition, the AUA has argued for, among other things:

  • Using Australian diplomacy to help bring the non-signatories into the NPT or, at least, to find other mechanisms that align their behaviours with the expectations of the NPT
  • Supporting and expanding the mechanisms and facilities for global nuclear fuel supply as an alternative to the spread of sensitive nuclear technology
  • Supporting role clarity and fit-for-purpose resourcing of the IAEA and ASNO.   

See also www.iaea.org ;  www.asno.dfat.org.au ; www.nti.org 

September 2009