Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Nuclear exports to China pose serious security, political, environmental risks

JANUARY 7, 2007: The Australian Conservation Foundation is raising serious concerns around the security, political and environmental risks of the newly ratified Australia-China Nuclear Transfer Agreement that gives the green light for Australian uranium producers to commence exports to China. The deal allows Canberra to cancel uranium exports if Beijing violates any provisions in the pact. John Howard has encouraged Australians to cash in on its vast uranium deposits for export and to meet Australia's future energy needs.

Australia has about 40 per cent of all known uranium reserves and accounts for about 23 per cent of global production of the nuclear fuel...

The announcement last week, that the Australia-China Nuclear Transfer Agreement has been ratified, shows "gross irresponsibility on the part of the Australian Government," says Dave Sweeney, Nuclear-Free Campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

"China is a known nuclear weapons state with clear and proven links between its civil and military nuclear programs. Exporting Australian uranium to China will free up domestic reserves that could be used in China's nuclear weapons program, inflaming regional insecurity and nuclear risks including unresolved nuclear waste management."

The Australian Conservation Foundation has said that Australia’s safeguards are not foolproof, nor are they permanent. "China lacks important informal checks and balances on its nuclear industry. The civil society groups so important in overseeing and improving nuclear industry performance in the West – independent media, environmental NGOs, free trade unions, community organisations – are either missing or fledgling in China" said Sweeney.

Mr Sweeney said that by exporting uranium to China, Australia will be fuelling a potential nuclear cross-fire in North Asia and bequeathing a terrible radioactive legacy to the region.

"Every gram of exported Australian uranium ends up as nuclear waste and has the potential to fuel nuclear weapons. Fifty years into the nuclear experiment, no country has found a way to dispose of nuclear waste and the unique security, human and environmental hazards it poses," said Mr Sweeney.

"China is seeking new energy sources, but nuclear is not the answer. It is not clean, green, cheap or safe. Rather than leaving future Chinese generations with a radioactive legacy, Australia should be helping China make the transition to a clean energy future by exporting renewable energy technology," he added.

Lsst week, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer announced that Canberra and Beijing had ratified the Australia-China Nuclear Transfer Agreement, and the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement through an exchange of Diplomatic Notes in China. The two treaties were signed in Canberra in April during a visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Ratification of this dubious nuclear safeguard agreements with China has cleared the way for BHP Billiton to produce an additional $2 billion a year in uranium from its Olympic Dam mine in SA. The task of finding a home for the radioactive material has now been made easier with China a potential major customer.

Australia's other big uranium producer, Energy Resources of Australia, is also locked into long-term contracts. A recent increase in the reserve base at its Ranger mine in the NT has ERA hunting down fresh contracts covering 11,100 tonnes of uranium for sale between 2014 and 2020. First production from the high-grade operation is not now expected until 2010, effectively delaying 37 per cent of the new uranium supply previously forecast to be available before then.

The World Nuclear Association has forecast that uranium demand could rise from about 65,000 tonnes in 2006 to 78,000 tonnes in 2015 and to 111,000 tonnes in 2030. Australia is poised to cash in on that growth, with BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam project in South Australia planning to at least triple annual production to 15,000 tonnes.

Subject to WA and Qld governments lifting bans on uranium mining, the number of Australian mines could double before 2010. Currently Australia has four mining operations - Olympic Dam, Ranger, Beverley and Honeymoon.

A recent price surge reflects the potential for near-term supply shortages at a time when nuclear power is enjoying unprecedented acceptance - because of its misleading claim that Nuclear energy somehow has a role in combating global warming.

Olympic Dam set for China offensive - SMH
Uranium miners prepare for a glowing future - SMH
Australia to sell uranium to China - Aljazeera
World Nuclear Association - Pro Nuclear
Uranium Information Centre - Pro Nuclear
World Information Service on Energy
Nuclear Information and Resource Service

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