Australia and India sign bilateral

08 September 2014

The signature of a long-awaited bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement has opened the door for the sale of Australian uranium to India.

Prime Ministers Abbott and Modi announce the agreement together in New Delhi on 5 September (Image: Prime Minister of India)

The agreement was signed during a state visit to India by Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, in the presence of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. As well as the vital cooperation document, the two leaders also agreed to deepen cooperation on energy security, and agreed to develop a strategic partnership based on long-term supplies of Australian resources including coal and uranium to help India meet its energy needs.

The road to uranium trade between Australia and India has been a long one.

India's status as a non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) saw it almost completely excluded from international nuclear trade, including the uranium market, for over three decades. The beginning of the end for India's isolation was the conclusion of a bilateral nuclear trade agreement with the USA in 2007. This was followed by a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 2008 decision by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to exempt India from its rule of prohibiting trade with non-members of the NPT.

With its non-proliferation credentials secured, the intervening years have seen India sign bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreements with the USA, Russia, France, UK, South Korea and Canada, as well as Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Namibia. However, Australia's policy of refusing to sell uranium to India because of its status as a non-signatory of the NPT has taken some time to be formally overturned.

India has an ambitious nuclear power program but very little uranium resources of its own, while Australia is one of the world's largest producers, so both countries would stand to benefit from freedom to trade. In 2011, Australia's then-prime minister Julia Gillard proposed an end to the country's ban on uranium imports to India. The bilateral agreement signed in New Delhi is the culmination of two years of negotiations between the two countries.

Abbott had openly acknowledged before his visit to India that the bilateral would be signed. In comments to reporters the day before the signing ceremony, he praised India's "absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record" and described the country as a model international citizen.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News