Nuclear Proliferation Risks in Australian government promoting its marginal uranium industry

Given that Australia’s uranium mining and export accounts for less than 1 percent of its hundred billion dollar mineral export business (iron ore, bauxite, coal, copper, nickel etc),36 however, these decisions by Australian leaders risked significant political capital over what has been a highly contentious issue in Australia’s recent political history

Undermining Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Energy and Security Politics in the Australia-India-Japan-U.S. Nuclear Nexus 核不拡散の土台崩し オーストラリア·インド·日本·米国間におけるエネルギーと安全保障政策 The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 46, No. 2, November 1, 2014 Adam Broinowski   “……Until 2014, along with China, Japan has also seen a boom in mostly solar and wind electricity generation. But this has been stalled by utilities who have refused to take an influx of renewable power into the grid or to reduce electricity prices.10 With fewer nuclear plants scheduled for construction around the world than for shutdown, however, the nuclear industry faces the likely prospect of contraction11 and replacement by rapidly advancing renewable energy options, including solar, wind, tidal, hydro and possibly geothermal power over the longer term.

Despite this gloomy prognosis for the uranium sector, confidence began to return to the uranium mining industry in Australia from late 2012.One significant reason for this was the election of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan in December 2012. Shares of uranium producers Paladin and Rio Tinto/Energy Resources Australia rose by 8 percent and 5 percent respectively in the days after the election and the spot price of uranium compound rose from $US 40.80/pound in November to $US 44/pound in December 2012.12

New mining leases were approved in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales, and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman broke his electoral commitment not to permit uranium mining by inviting uranium mining companies to commence exploration operations. The new (Queensland) Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill 2014, for example, passed on 9 September 2014 authorizes a Coordinator General to overrule community objection rights to ‘State significant projects’ including coal, bauxite and uranium mines, or to limit them to concerns unrelated to environmental protection.13 This Act gives virtual immunity to large companies exploring for uranium deposits in the Mitchell and Alice River basins in Cape York and the Gulf country. Encouraged by these positive signs, along with other Japanese, Chinese and Indian investors in uranium projects in Australia, the major French energy corporation Areva recently bought a 51 percent share in a joint venture with Australian uranium miner Toro Energy for exploration in the Wiso Basin in Northern Territory.14 In other words, federal and state governments in Australia have been approving exploration licenses and the opening of uranium mines at a time when the global nuclear and uranium industry was marked by decline and exit.

While some of the larger corporations chose to wait for uranium demand to rise, many in the Australian uranium mining industry scrambled to reprioritise, turning to the newly emerging market of nation-states tipped for rapid economic expansion. India attracted attention due to its high-growth economic potential, geostrategic positioning and nuclear ambitions. As then Prime Minister Howard had done in 2007, ‘energy starved’ India’s ‘power crisis’ is again being widely portrayed in desperate terms,15 while the solutions are presented as economic expansion and greater energy consumption by a growing middle class.16 In addition to coal exports, Australian politicians, in consultation with business representatives in the uranium and minerals sector, have framed the push for uranium trade with India as a ‘moral duty’ and ‘humanitarian responsibility’ to improve living standards of India’s impoverished people.

Since the early 2000s Australian uranium interests have sought to retain and expand market share by arguing that increasing nuclear power reliance could support the demands of the rapid growth economies of China and India while achieving lower carbon emissions than coal-fired power and cheaper and more reliable energy than renewable alternatives. In the period known as the ‘nuclear renaissance’, in 2004, the US and Britain also moved to re-commence new nuclear power plant construction after inaction since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Even after 3.11, these plans (such as in Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina in the US and Hinkley Point in the UK) appear to be continuing.17

On 7–11 July 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Abe made a five-day visit to Australia, which included a trip with Prime Minister Abbott to the Rio Tinto operations in the Pilbara region in north-western Australia. They visited the open-pit iron ore mine in the West Angelas mine, south-east of Cape Lambert, in which Rio Tinto has a share of 53 percent, Mitsui Bussan 33 percent and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation 14 percent. Other Japanese companies including Japan Uranium Management Inc (JUMI) and Japan Australia Uranium Resources Development Co Ltd (JAURD), Mitsubishi, and Itochu also have shares in uranium mines (Kintyre, Lake Maitland) in this region. The day Abe arrived, the CEO of the Mitsubishi Corporation (heavily involved in nuclear technologies) announced that Australia was a ‘veritable lifeline’ for Japan’s resource-dependent economy, and promised billions in investment in Australia’s resources sector, agribusiness and retail.18

Over the nearly four years since the Fukushima disaster, the Japanese government and corporations have actively courted more than 20 countries for the purchase of Japan’s nuclear technologies. Agreements had been reached with Jordan, Vietnam, South Korea and Russia under the Kan and Noda Democratic Party Japan (DPJ) governments, and the export of nuclear technology remained central to the Abe government’s economic plans. Two more nuclear technology agreements with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have since been reached,19 and six more are under consideration – with India, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh. Despite the continuing negative effects of ongoing radioactive contamination dispersal from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the Abe government remains intent both on nuclear startups in Japan and on promoting its exports of nuclear technology to other countries.

These activities on the nuclear industrial front occurred in the context of Japan’s steadily deteriorating relations with China, the establishment of a National Security Council (December 2013), the commitment to a substantial increase over time in military spending,20and the Cabinet reinterpretation of the constitution (in July 2014) to permit collective security operations with the US and its allies. In 2014, Abe also made vigorous diplomatic initiatives to secure security and trade agreements with the US, UK, EU, Australia, India and the ASEAN nations. He devoted special attention to the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar. A free trade agreement was negotiated with Australia that moved toward the purchase of Japanese Sōryū-class submarines, designed to counter China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capacities and to support US Navy carrier strike groups.21

A similar initiative followed on 5 September 2014, when Abbott and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed the Australia-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in New Delhi. It was the culmination of the efforts initiated by the Howard government in 2006,22 carried forward by the Gillard government in 2011–2012……..

In 1996, Australian PM John Howard (1996–2007) had already scrapped the Australian Labor Party-initiated Three Mine (uranium) policy (in place since 1983, it compromised the original outright ban on uranium mining), which limited uranium mining in Australia to Olympic Dam (SA), Ranger (NT) and Beverley (SA). After the US-India agreement, the Howard government actively sought to reverse the bi-partisan long-term ban on exporting uranium to non-NPT signatory states in keeping with the NPT and announced the decision to allow exports to India in August 2007. In November 2007, the Rudd-led Labor party (2007–2010) claimed electoral victory, and decided to continue to carry into government the decision to expand uranium mines while permitting state and territory governments to veto that policy. But the Rudd government reversed Howard’s initiative with India and reverted to the ban on exports to non-NPT states.24Nevertheless, China had already taken the opportunity by signing an agreement with Australia in April 2005 to permit it to conduct exploration for uranium in Australia and to import 20,000 metric tonnes per year of it for power generation from 2010,25 and in 2008 India’s Reliance Industries also invested in Uranium Exploration Australia Ltd (UXA) in order to secure uranium exploration licences.26…….

in 2011 after Rudd was ousted as Australian party and national leader in 2010, and his successor PM Gillard resumed the Howard policy toward India. In December 2011, she declared that it was in ‘the national interest [to strengthen] our strategic partnership with India in the Asian century’. In 2012, the New South Wales Labour government lifted the ban on uranium mining, and both Canada and Australia negotiated a uranium trade agreement with India.35

Given that Australia’s uranium mining and export accounts for less than 1 percent of its hundred billion dollar mineral export business (iron ore, bauxite, coal, copper, nickel etc),36 however, these decisions by Australian leaders risked significant political capital over what has been a highly contentious issue in Australia’s recent political history……Adam Broinowski is an ARC postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Pacific and Asian History, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University. His recent work includes a chapter, ‘Sovereign Power Ambition and the Realities of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster’ in Nadesan/Boys/McKillop/Wilcox (eds.), Fukushima: Dispossession or Denuclearization?, The Dispossesion Publishing Group, 2014, and a forthcoming article, ‘Conflicting Immunities: Priorities of Life and Sovereignty amid the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster’,European Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, December 2014. His book, Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body during and after the Cold War is forthcoming in 2015.

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