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Uranium sales – unpopular but right

By Graham Cooke - posted Friday, 18 November 2011

Julia Gillard will not receive a great deal of thanks from within her own left faction of the Labor Party for her proposal to drop the ban on selling uranium to India, but as Albert Einstein once said 'what is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right'.

Whatever the Greens and the left of the Labor Party might think, it is right to sell uranium to India even though it hasn't signed (couldn't sign) the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - right for any number of reasons.

Take the pragmatic reasons: We can make money; the mining lobby (which doesn't have the Prime Minister as its pin-up girl at the moment) will be pleased; jobs will be created; we have plenty of uranium and if we didn't sell it to India someone else would.


Let's take it from the humanitarian side. Around 40 per cent of India's population (that's close to 500 million people) have access to electricity for 12 hours or less a day. The need for nearly half a billion consumers to be brought into the 20th century, let alone the 21st, is not going to be met by sticking up a few windmills or laying down some photovoltaic cells.

It's either going to be from nuclear energy or a string of heavily polluting coal-fired power stations. What would be your choice Mr Brown?

India is also a rapidly industrialising country. It is doing so because it wants to lift more of its population out of the $2-a-day poverty trap. It is right and proper that it should be doing this, but industry needs electricity, plenty of it - another box to be ticked for nuclear power.

And finally there is the simple fact that Australia is a democracy, India is the world's largest democracy and we should be doing more to develop relations which have been sadly neglected over the past two decades while we have been paying court to authoritarian China.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty has continually been put forward as the stumbling block by the anti-sales lobby. Leave alone the fact that there will be strict and verifiable rules in place to ensure that Australia's uranium will go nowhere near a bomb factory, the mantra is that India has defied the treaty and must be punished for it.

But as I hinted above, it hasn't been a case of India not signing, it can't sign without giving up its nuclear weapons arsenal – even though the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia (then the Soviet Union), France and China are proud signatories while their arsenals bristle with nukes.


The reason is a date – 1970 – the year that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into being. The five countries mentioned already had nuclear weapons and certainly weren't going to give them up, so the framers of the treaty accepted the inevitable and wrote them in as 'Nuclear Weapons States'.

However, India did not explode its first nuclear device until four years afterwards and so was excluded from signing along with (later) Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, the latter having signed originally, before leaving to develop its own bomb.

It is certainly unfortunate that Pakistan felt it had to develop its own nuclear punch to copy India, especially as it is a considerably less stable nation with terrorist groups existing almost side-by-side with its storage silos. That is a separate issue. But the threat that India keenly feels today comes not from Pakistan, but from the east and nuclear-equipped China.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.

He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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