Australia and China today signed deals clearing the way for Beijing to buy Australian uranium – but only for use in its nuclear power stations.
At a ceremony in Canberra, the two countries’ foreign ministers signed off on two agreements intended to ensure Beijing does not divert Australian nuclear fuel into its atomic weapons programme.
China has been negotiating for months to buy uranium from Australia, which has 40% of the world’s known uranium deposits.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing signed two pacts – a Nuclear Transfer Agreement and a Nuclear Co-operation Agreement.
“These agreements establish strict safeguards, arrangements and conditions to ensure Australian uranium supplied to China, and any collaborative programs in applications of nuclear technology, is used exclusively for peaceful purposes,” Downer said in a statement.
Australia refuses to sell uranium to nations that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The signing came on the third day of a visit to Australia by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
Wen held talks early today with Prime Minister John Howard in Canberra and Howard paid tribute to the two countries’ relations.
“Of all the important relationships that Australia has with other countries, none has been more greatly transformed over the last 10 years than our relationship with China,” Howard said after the talks.
Australia already is a major supplier of key resources such as iron ore and coal that are fuelling China’s rapid industrial and economic expansion.
The Australian Conservation Foundation, a leading environmental group, warned that the deal will jeopardise international nuclear safeguards by allowing China to divert uranium to its weapons programme.
But Downer dismissed that argument.
“China has a nuclear weapons programme whether we like it or not,” Downer said. “It’s not going to make the slightest difference whether we have this agreement with China or whether we don’t to their nuclear weapons programme.”