Transcript of Radio Interview, AM – Uranium Issues
3 April 2006
Prime Minister comments on government and business agreements signed with China; China is expected to agree to uranium trade safeguards
TONY EASTLEY: In a deal potentially worth billions of dollars, China will today sign a lucrative agreement clearing the way for it to buy Australian uranium to power its growing number of nuclear power stations.
China’s Premier Wen Jiabao is in Canberra for talks with the Prime Minister John Howard and to sign a series of government and business agreements.
He’ll also meet Cabinet ministers, Labor leader Kim Beazley and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie.
The prospect of large-scale uranium exports to China has reopened the contentious debate about uranium mining and the wider issue of nuclear energy.
From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Australia has 40 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves, but supplies much less of the world market for mined uranium.
That’s about to change, with today’s signing of an overarching agreement so China can buy Australian uranium.
China plans to build as many as 30 new nuclear reactors by 2020 and reportedly wants to explore and develop uranium mines of its own in Australia.
The Federal Government says Premier Wen’s confirmed China will agree to stringent safeguards stating the uranium must only be used for peaceful means, to generate electricity, and it can’t be transferred for use in weapons.
John Howard’s putting great store in the safeguards regime he’s confident can be enforced effectively.
JOHN HOWARD: China is wanting world acceptance in so many ways. China sees herself as projecting influence and authority in the region. That’s understandable, given her size, and I don’t think she’s going to lightly give up the fairly hard-won reputation that she’s trying to get, acquire.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the Australian Greens accuse the Federal Government of kowtowing to the temptation of big export dollars. Senator Christine Milne argues economics and human rights should not be separated.
CHRISTINE MILNE: What we have in China is a repressive regime which does not support democracy. Premier Wen, as readily as two years ago, said that Tiananmen Square was an uprising that had to be put down.
He is no champion of democracy, China does not honour its international obligations on political and civil rights, and furthermore it has a poor reputation in terms of nuclear technology.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Conservation Foundation echoes those concerns, adding nuclear energy is too dangerous, too dirty, too expensive and no answer to climate change.
But for some in the Federal Opposition, the prospect of massive exports to China and India is reason to ditch Labor’s "no new mines" policy.
Resources spokesman Martin Ferguson is keen for a policy rethink, so state Labor governments are free to open a swag of new mines, arguing the debate’s moved on and Australia could soon be the world’s biggest uranium exporter.
But Environment spokesman Anthony Albanese doesn’t think the arguments underpinning the current policy have shifted one iota. He says the intractable problems of high cost, safe disposal of radioactive nuclear waste, safety and nuclear proliferation remain. At Labor’s national conference in a year’s time he’ll argue for no change.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there’s certainly no push from the rank and file of the Labor Party for a change in policy. I’m yet to see a single branch resolution calling for change. I do know that there’s many branches carrying resolutions supporting the existing policy and reaffirming that Labor’s as far into the nuclear fuel cycle as we want to be.
TONY EASTLEY: Labor’s Environment spokesman, Anthony Albanese.