China uranium exports too risky

January 16, 2006

As Chinese and Australian delegates begin uranium export negotiations in Canberra this Tuesday, Friends of the Earth (FoE) and the newly-formed Beyond Nuclear Initiative (BNI) are calling on the federal government to rethink its ill-considered plan to export uranium to China.

FoE and BNI nuclear campaigner Dr. Jim Green said: "The Howard government is ignoring public opposition to the sale of uranium to China. Last year a poll of 1200 Australians found that 53% were opposed to uranium exports to China, with just 31% in favour."

"It will be impossible to ensure that Australian uranium does not end up in Chinese nuclear weapons. China has an active nuclear weapons program and an appalling record of transferring nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan, North Korea and Iran."

"Australian uranium in China would be subject to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but as a nuclear weapons state, China is not subject to full-scope IAEA safeguards. Inspections would not be sufficiently numerous or rigorous to provide any confidence that Australian uranium was not being diverted to weapons production."

"The claim that Australia's uranium export safeguards are the strongest in the world is plainly false. The bilateral agreement being negotiated in Canberra this week will contain provisions such as a requirement for Australian consent to reprocess spent fuel produced using Australian uranium. But the Chinese negotiators will be well aware of the fact that requests to reprocess spent fuel have never once been rejected, even when this leads to the stockpiling of plutonium. "

"It is not difficult to envisage a scenario whereby the IAEA inspection regime and the bilateral uranium export agreement would count for nothing - the most obvious being a crisis over Taiwan."

The Chinese Communist Party regime's record of human rights abuses and repression would make it far more difficult to track Australian uranium. We know of one case of a nuclear industry whistle-blower being abducted by state authorities and held without charge since April 2005, and no doubt there are other similar cases. China's record of media censorship - the regime has more journalists in prison than any other country - will also make it more difficult to ensure that Australian uranium was misused."

"Uranium sales to China would set a poor precedent. Will we now sell uranium to all repressive, secretive, military states, or just some, or just China?"

Click here for Briefing paper available from FoE.

Contact: Dr Jim Green 0417 318368 jim.green@foe.org.au

The Beyond Nuclear Initiative is a new collaboration between the Poola Foundation (Tom Kantor Fund), Friends of the Earth and the Australian Conservation Foundation.