Australia's uranium customer countries
India - Russia - China - United Arab Emirates
Proposed uranium sales to India - detailed 2010 EnergyScience Coalition briefing paper (PDF)
US-India ageement (PDF) - Joint Australian NGO statement
Uranium Sales to Russia (PDF file)
FoE Submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, June 2008
Treaties Committee rejects Russia uranium agreement, Online Opinion, 22 September 2008
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties rejects uranium sales to Russia - PDF of full report:
(the government simply ignored the Committee's recommendations)
Should we be selling uranium still to Russia?
Dave Sweeney, 4 August 2014
Australia's treaty watchdog refused to endorse the treaty to sell uranium to Russia due to security issues. Dave Sweeney, the Australian Conservation Foundation's nuclear-free campaigner, calls for the treaty to be reviewed in the aftermath of the MH17 tragedy.
Can Russia be trusted with our uranium?
Jim Green, March 22, 2010, Fairfax 'National Times' websites
A 2005 survey of 1200 Australians found that 56% of us believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear 'safeguards' system is ineffective. Barely half as many believe the system is effective.
Public concern will be heightened by the Rudd Labor government's response on Thursday to a parliamentary inquiry into proposed uranium sales to Russia.
The inquiry – carried out in 2008 by the treaties committee – refused to endorse the uranium export agreement signed by John Howard and Vladimir Putin. One of the reasons was the failure of the agreement to specify meaningful safeguards arrangements to provide confidence that Australian uranium will remain in peaceful use.
The treaties committee was unmoved by the claim of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office that "strict" safeguards conditions would "ensure" that our uranium remains in peaceful use. All the more so after Friends of the Earth revealed that there hasn't been a single International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards inspection in Russia since 2001 – information which the safeguards office conspicuously failed to provide to the committee.
But resources minister Martin Ferguson isn't fussed. His statement on Thursday asserts that the Howard-Putin agreement "would ensure that any uranium supplied could only be used for peaceful purposes". It doesn't – but Mr Ferguson isn't going to let the facts get in the way of a good story and he isn't going to let concerns over safeguards get between the uranium mining companies and a bucket of money. ...
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties approval for uranium exports to China http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=jsct/8august2006/index.htm
How low can Australia go with uranium export policy?
Jim Green, 9 December 2011, http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=12991&page=0
How low can Australia go with uranium export policy? We now have uranium export agreements with all of the 'declared' nuclear weapons states – the U.S., U.K., China, France, Russia – although not one of them takes seriously its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue disarmament in good faith. That weakness, among others, is now being used to justify disregarding the NPT altogether with sales to India. Selling uranium to countries in breach of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament norms violates Australian government policy and binding Labor platform policy. That's pretty low.
We claim to have championed the adoption of 'Additional Protocols', agreements that provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with somewhat greater powers to uncover covert weapons programs. But we waited until all of our customer countries had an Additional Protocol in place before making it a condition of uranium sales; that's not leveraging improvements in the safeguards regime, it's low-brow PR.
We claim to be working to discourage countries from producing fissile (explosive) material for nuclear bombs, yet we export uranium to countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. And we give Japan permission to separate and stockpile plutonium although that stockpiling has fanned regional proliferation risks and tensions in North-East Asia for many years.
In 1993, cables from the U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo posed these questions: "Can Japan expect that if it embarks on a massive plutonium recycling program that Korea and other nations would not press ahead with reprocessing programs? Would not the perception of Japan's being awash in plutonium and possessing leading edge rocket technology create anxiety in the region?"
Australia's response? We have weakened the previous policy of requiring case-by-case permission to separate and stockpile plutonium, and we now give Japan open-ended permission. That's pretty low. In theory, Australia has a relatively 'strict' policy of requiring Australian consent to separate and stockpile plutonium produced from Australian uranium. In practice we have failed when put to the test and permission to separate plutonium has never once been refused.
We sell uranium to countries with a recent history of weapons-related research. In 2004, South Korea disclosed information about a range of weapons-related R&D over the preceding 20 years. Australia has supplied South Korea with uranium since 1986. We don't know whether Australian uranium or its by-products were used in any of the illicit research in South Korea. The attitude from the Howard government and its safeguards office was 'see no evil, hear no evil'.
The 2006 approval to sell uranium to China set another new low: uranium sales to an undemocratic, secretive state with an appalling human rights record (such as jailing nuclear whistle-blowers). That precedent was reinforced with the subsequent approval of uranium sales to Russia (another undemocratic nuclear weapons state, though Russia prefers to deal with dissidents by poisoning them with radioactive polonium).
The Russian agreement set a new low: uranium sales to a country that is very rarely visited by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards inspectors - just two inspections over the past decade. Federal parliament's treaties committee recommended against uranium sales to Russia until some sort of safeguards system was put in place, only to have its recommendation ignored.
Another new low with the Russian agreement: we granted permission to Russia to process Australian uranium at a nuclear plant that is entirely beyond the scope of IAEA inspections. The IAEA has no authority to inspect the plant even if it had the resources and the inclination to do so.
The decision to sell to India sets a new low: uranium sales to a country which is outside the NPT altogether and is not subject to the requirement of the 'declared' weapons states to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith. As former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt recently said: "The discrimination is in India's favour, not against it."
And another low: India would be the only one of Australia's uranium customers that is definitely continuing to produce fissile material for weapons (China may also be doing so).
And another low: we take pride in Australia's 'leadership' role in the development of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty yet we sell uranium to countries that have signed but not ratified the CTBT (the U.S and China) and the government now plans to sell uranium to India, which has neither signed nor ratified the CTBT. The CTBT remains in limbo because those three countries, and a few others, refuse to ratify it.
And another low: if uranium sales to India proceed, it will be the first time since the Cold War that we have sold uranium to a country which is engaged in a nuclear arms race. India and Pakistan have increased the size of their nuclear weapons arsenals by 25-35 per cent over the past year alone. Both continue to develop nuclear-capable missiles. Both are expanding their capacity to produce fissile material. Both refuse to sign or ratify the CTBT.
The India decision marks a low-point in Australia's international diplomacy. To permit uranium sales with no meaningful commitment by India to curb its weapons program, and to de-escalate the South Asian nuclear arms race, is spineless, irresponsible, dangerous sycophancy.
How low can we go? Plans are in train to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates, probably followed by other undemocratic states in the Middle East. We were planning uranium sales to the Shah of Iran months before his overthrow in 1979. The Middle East has been (and remains) a nuclear hot-spot with numerous covert nuclear weapons programs - successful, aborted, destroyed or ongoing. The Middle East has also seen numerous conventional military strikes and attempted strikes on nuclear plants, in Iraq (several times), Iran, Israel, and most recently Israel's strike on a suspected reactor site in Syria.
Short of selling uranium deliberately and specifically for weapons production – as we did after World War II – I don't think its possible for Australian uranium export policy to sink any lower. I suppose we can take some comfort from that. Sort of. Not really.
Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and author of a detailed briefing paper on uranium sales to India. www.choosenuclearfree.net/india
A Year Of Nuclear Bungles
Jim Green, 19 Dec 2012, New Matilda
The nuclear industry inflicts far more damage on itself than its opponents could ever hope to. The mere mention of the easily-preventable Fukushima disaster probably suffices to establish that point, but there are many more examples. To make the task manageable, this snapshot of recent nuclear shenanigans, jiggery-pokery, goings-on and own-goals is restricted to countries that Australia sells uranium to (or plans to sell uranium to).
Tests carried out at the European Union's 143 nuclear power reactors have exposed hundreds of problems requiring up to €25 billion (AU$31 billion) to remedy, according to a report by the EU energy commissioner. The report concludes that "practically all" plants need safety improvements.
Gee-whiz "next generation" power reactors in Finland and France continue to embarrass the industry. When the contract was signed in 2003 for a new "European Pressurized Reactor" (EPR) in Finland, completion was anticipated in 2009. Now, commercial operation is not anticipated until 2015 — six years behind schedule. The estimated cost ballooned from €3 billion to €6.4 billion, and up again to €8 billion (AU$10 billion). Peter Atherton, utilities analyst at Citigroup, said: "There are few companies in the world that can take a loss of that size and remain solvent."
EDF's Flamanville 3 EPR reactor in northern France is also behind schedule — it was originally meant to enter service in 2012 but that date has been pushed back to 2016. Its estimated cost has grown from €3.3 billion to €8 billion, and up again to €8.5 billion. Italian utility Enel recently pulled out of the project, prompting UBS analyst Per Lekander to say: "In a way, the last 24 hours have killed French nuclear finally because the cost makes it totally impossible to export and now you have one of the few partners actively withdrawing; it looks really bad."
In November, a report by the UK National Audit Office said that nuclear waste stored in run-down buildings at the Sellafield nuclear complex poses an "intolerable risk", and that costs of plant decommissioning have spiralled out of control. In the same month, UK government agencies filed nine charges against the owners of Sellafield for illegal dumping of radioactive waste.
The National Audit Office estimates the total future costs for decommissioning Sellafield, over a century or so, will be £67 billion (AU$103 billion) — well up from the 2009 estimate of £47 billion (AU$72 billion). Estimates of the clean up costs for a range of UK nuclear sites including Sellafield have jumped from a 2005 estimate of £56 billion (AU$86 billion) to over £100 billion.
In South Korea, five engineers were charged with covering up a potentially dangerous power failure at the Kori-I reactor in May. The accident occurred because of a failure to follow safety procedures. The manager of the reactor decided to conceal the incident and to delete records, despite a legal obligation to notify the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.
In early November, the South Korean government shut down two reactors at Yeonggwang to replace thousands of parts that had been supplied with forged quality and safety warranties. Plant owner Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) has acknowledged possible bribery and collusion by KHNP officials as well as corruption by firms supplying reactor parts. In late November there were further revelations and the current total stands at 8601 reactor parts, 10 firms and six reactors. Inadequate and compromised regulation has been a key contributor to the problems in South Korea's nuclear industry — just as it was a key factor behind the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
South Korea wants to develop uranium enrichment technology (a direct route to nuclear weapons material) in violation of its commitments under the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
In Sweden, problems with back-up generators have forced two reactors off-line. One of the reactors had only just restarted after over a year out of service following problems with the turbine system and damage to the reactor vessel. The Swedish Nuclear Safety Authority has uncovered a deficit of at least €3.4 billion in the Swedish Nuclear Waste Fund.
The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) — established by the Japanese Parliament — has lifted the lid on the widespread corruption that led to the Fukushima disaster. The report states that the accident was "a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented" if not for "a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11". The accident was the result of "collusion between the government, the regulators and [plant operator] TEPCO".
The NAIIC report is equally scathing about the response to the disaster: "Insufficient evacuation planning led to many residents receiving unnecessary radiation exposure. Others were forced to move multiple times, resulting in increased stress and health risks — including deaths among seriously ill patients." The report notes that most of the 150,000 evacuees from the nuclear disaster are still dislocated and they "continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of families, disruption of their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the environment."
Australia fuels proliferation tensions in North Asia by allowing Japan open ended permission to separate and stockpile weapons-useable plutonium produced from Australian uranium. The issue has resurfaced in recent months thanks to Japan's nuclear hawks. Former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba put it bluntly: "Having nuclear plants shows to other nations that Japan can make nuclear weapons."
Last year, US President Obama told a nuclear security summit: "We simply can't go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we are trying to keep away from terrorists." Yet Australia gives open ended permission to Japan to separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel and to stockpile it.
India's comptroller and auditor-general, Vinod Rai, has found that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board is ineffective and negligent. He found that 60 per cent of regulatory inspections for operating nuclear power reactors were either delayed or not undertaken at all. Smaller radiation facilities operate with no oversight at all. Existing legislation gives the board almost no punitive power.
Meanwhile, the Indian government continues to attack and murder citizens opposing nuclear power plants; to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal and its missile capabilities; and to thumb its nose at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Nuclear security remains very poor and corruption is widespread.
Diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Beijing raise serious concerns about safety in China's nuclear industry. Cables say that cheap, old technology is "vastly increasing" risks. Professor He Zuoxiu, who helped to develop China's nuclear weapons program, warns about the pace of China's nuclear power program: "Are we really ready for this kind of giddy speed? I think not — we're seriously underprepared, especially on the safety front." Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences warn that China lacks a fully independent safety and regulatory agency and that risks are further increased by shortages of qualified staff.
The first consignment of uranium from Australia has arrived in Russia following the 2010 ratification of a uranium supply agreement. Unfortunately, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards inspections of Australian uranium (and its by-products) will be rare if indeed any inspections take place at all. In 2008, Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties concluded that: "It is essential that actual physical inspection by the IAEA occurs at any Russian sites that may handle [Australian Obligated Nuclear Materials]. Further, the supply of uranium to Russia should be contingent upon such inspections being carried out." The Gillard Government ignored the recommendation and ratified the agreement.
In the United States, the New York Times reports that security guards at a nuclear weapons plant who failed to stop an 82-year-old nun from reaching a bomb fuel storage building were also cheating on a "security knowledge test". At least 99 nuclear accidents — resulting in the loss of human life and/or more than US$50,000 (AU$47,000) of property damage — occurred worldwide between 1952 and 2009. Most of them — 56 out of 99 — occurred in the US.
In August, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced the suspension of all reactor licensing decisions until political and legal disputes regarding high level nuclear waste management are resolved. Former NRC commissioner Peter Bradford said that "the reactors awaiting construction licenses weren't going to be built anytime soon … Falling demand, cheaper alternatives and runaway nuclear costs had doomed their near-term prospects". Over AU$10 billion and over 20 years effort was wasted on plans for a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, before the scandal-plagued project was cancelled by the Obama Administration in 2009.
All these shenanigans would be a great laugh if they took place in, say, a Bureau de Change. But the nuclear industry brings with it immense risks: catastrophic accidents and WMD proliferation (and nuclear warfare has the potential to cause catastrophic climate change as well as killing millions directly).
Selling WMD feedstock (in the form of uranium) to dictatorships, crooks, murderers and proliferators is a mug's game. Just ask BHP Billiton — the world's largest mining company has disbanded its Uranium Division, cancelled the Olympic Dam mine expansion (citing the depressed uranium price), and sold the Yeelirrie uranium deposit in WA for less than 7 per cent of the nominal value of the uranium resource.
Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.