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Australian Yellow cake fuels Ukrainian fires

By Dave Sweeney - posted Thursday, 6 March 2014

As the deeply disturbing events unfolding in the Ukraine highlight troop mobilisations, sabre rattling and suppression of civilian critics are becoming the hallmarks of President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Australia, along with most Western nations, has condemned the Russian escalation and called for restraint and dialogue. Such a call is important but needs to be accompanied by action to ensure it penetrates the thick walls of the Kremlin.

One clear and potent action that Australia could take to amplify our diplomatic dissent with the posturing of both the Red Army and the Black Sea fleet would be to halt our fledgling yellowcake trade with Russia.


Uranium is a dual use fuel: it provides the power fuel for nuclear reactors and the bomb fuel for nuclear weapons - and the distinction between the two sectors is more one of political convenience than practical effect.

Russia's arsenal of over 14,000 nuclear weapons has an explosive yield equivalent to 200,000 Hiroshima bombs and President Putin has stated that any reduction in these numbers would only serve make its nuclear arsenal "more compact but more effective".

Putin has declared that a nuclear arsenal "remains one of the top priorities of Russian Federation policy" and that Russia will develop "completely new strategic [nuclear] complexes." In both 2007 and 2008 Russia threatened Poland with nuclear strikes from missiles it would base at its enclave of Kaliningrad following Polish approval for US missile defence bases in Poland. Today as the troops gather on the Ukrainian border you can be sure that Moscow’s missiles will be on high alert.

Australia’s connection with the Russian nuclear industry escalated in 2007 when Prime Minister John Howard and President Putin inked a uranium supply agreement at the APEC summit in Sydney.

The deal was widely criticised by environment, proliferation and human rights groups, delayed by the political fallout from Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and subject to detailed assessment from the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the Federal Parliament’s watchdog of Australian treaty deals and international agreements.

In the months that followed, JSCOT heard evidence highlighting concerns and deficiencies within the Russian nuclear industry, including an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimate that only half of Russia's nuclear materials have been reasonably secured.


The nuclear sectorhas long been a source of concern and contamination in Russia and along with a domestic nuclear industry plagued with corruption, limited regulation and disturbingly porous security, JSCOT heard of Russia’s continuing flirtation with nuclear weapons.

Informed by these real world concerns and evidence JSCOT, to its considerable credit, recommended a mix of caution and action in relation to planned Australian uranium sales.

The majority report argued that the government should not advance any sales until a series of essential pre-conditions were met. These included a detailed analysis of Russia’s nuclear non-proliferation status, the complete separation of Russia’s civil and military nuclear sectors, reductions in industry secrecy, independent safety and security assessments of Russian nuclear facilities and action on nuclear theft and smuggling concerns.

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About the Author

Dave Sweeney is nuclear free campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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