Uranium sales to India

From Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

The federal government's plan to permit uranium sales to India has been subjected to a strong critique by the former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), John Carlson. Others to have raised concerns include former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt, and Ron Walker, former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. But Carlson's critique carries particular weight given his 21 years experience as the head of Australia's safeguards office.

Carlson notes that the civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed by Australia and India in September contains "substantial departures from Australia's current safeguards conditions" which suggest "that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium supplied to India."

Carlson writes: "Disturbingly, it is reported that Indian officials will not provide Australia with reports accounting for material under the agreement, and that the Abbott Government seems prepared to waive this requirement for India. ... The reporting procedures are not optional; they are fundamental to Australia's ability to confirm that our safeguards conditions are being met. They have long applied to close and trusted partners such as the US, the EU, Japan and South Korea. There is absolutely no case to waive them for India."

The failure to provide regular reports "will also expose the agreement to potential legal challenge under the 1987 Safeguards Act", Carlson writes. (Another problem, not mentioned, is that nuclear material could be diverted and reports falsified. There is little likelihood that the falsification of reports would be detected.)

Carlson notes that provisions for 'fallback safeguards' in the event of IAEA safeguards ceasing to apply are vague and open to differing interpretations.

There are many concerns other than those noted by Carlson. The IAEA−India safeguards agreement is on the public record, if only because it was leaked, and it is clear from the agreement that safeguards inspections are few and far between. A leaked IAEA document states that the IAEA "will not mechanistically or systematically seek to verify" information obtained from India.

Carlson notes that the 'administrative arrangement' which will append the nuclear cooperation agreement may be "even more consequential than the agreement itself" as it sets out the working procedures for the agreement. But the Australian public will never get to see the administrative arrangement. And the Australian public will never be able to find out any information about the separation and stockpiling of weapons-useable plutonium in India; or nuclear accounting discrepancies ('Material Unaccounted For'); or even the quantity of Australian uranium (and its by-products) held in India.

More information: www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/u/cc