13 Oct 2012

Challenge mooted over export of uranium to India

9:47 am on 13 October 2012

A move by Australia to allow the export of uranium to India could face a legal challenge from Pacific nations.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will travel to India on Monday to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

She's expected to discuss a decision last November to overturn a ban on selling uranium to India, which was previously in place because India isn't a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

International law expert Professor Donald Rothwell told Radio Australia that could lead to a challenge under a 1985 treaty which governs nuclear testing and the use of nuclear materials from the region.

"Australia therefore has an obligation to ensure that its sale of uranium mined from within Australia is dealt with consistently with the provisions of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty," he said.

"To that end, there's very much an expectation that any sale would be only to countries that meet the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty obligation and that immediately raises an issue, because India, of course, is not a party to the NPT."

The ABC reports South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty was signed in 1985 by 12 nations in the Pacific and Australia.

India has agreements with at least eight countries to supply its nuclear energy programme and John Carlson, the former head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation office, said it would be unlikely India would funnel Australian uranium into its military activities.

Since the ban was lifted last November, work has begun to develop a safeguards treaty and put in place legislation that would enable sales to begin.

The ABC reports the talks between the prime ministers are expected to further the process.