Apr 4, 2006

Transcript Radio Interview, The World Today – Uranium deal with Taiwan

Australian uranium producers strike deal with Taiwan

The World Today

Tuesday, 4 April , 2006

Reporter: Andrew Geoghegan

ELEANOR HALL: With the ink barely dry on the Federal Government’s agreement to sell uranium to China, it’s been revealed today that Australian uranium is also heading for Taiwan.

Australia’s two uranium producers, BHP Billiton and ERA, have struck deals to sell uranium to a Taiwanese electricity company, via the United States.

So does this mean that the nuclear safeguard agreements are being undermined?

Finance Correspondent Andrew Geoghegan reports.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Just which countries are getting their hands on Australian uranium?

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade makes assurances that all of Australia’s exported uranium only goes to countries with which Australia has a bilateral safeguards agreement.

The agreements state that the uranium is used for peaceful purposes and may only be retransferred to a country or party which has a safeguards agreement with Australia.

Seeking to broaden their market even further, Australia’s uranium producers, BHP Billiton and ERA have taken that opportunity to strike a deal with Taiwan.

Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It is possible to do it, and so they can negotiate contracts, and if they’re all in order, then those exports can take place, but only via the United States.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: The Australian companies will supply uranium to Taiwan indirectly, even though Taiwan is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, because it’s not recognised as a sovereign state.

Four years ago the Australian Government signed an agreement with the United States which allows uranium to be retransferred to Taiwan, but only after it has first been converted and enriched in the United States.

This has raised concerns that Australia could sell uranium to India indirectly.

Alexander Downer.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Taiwan did originally sign the NPT, and all of its nuclear facilities are subject to IAEA inspections. Now, neither of those things are true of India.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Anthony Albanese, the ALP’s staunch anti-nuclear advocate, is alarmed that the Government has a seemingly relaxed approach to Taiwan.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, certainly the Howard Government’s approach, as demonstrated by Alexander Downer on AM this morning, where he seemed to not regard the fact that Taiwan isn’t a signatory to the NPT as being unimportant… that comes after John Howard had three different positions in three days on his visit to India about the supply of uranium to India, and comes after the US-India agreement to supply uranium, even though India is not a signatory to the NPT. That certainly undermines the international effort on nuclear non-proliferation.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: And the Greens’ energy spokeswoman, Christine Milne, thinks the uranium deal with Taiwan will further destabilise security in the region.

CHRISTINE MILNE: We now have the situation where Australia is fuelling increased tensions in the region. Australia will now be supplying uranium to both Taiwan and to China, in a situation where there is the potential for a real flashpoint.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Alexander Downer dismisses such fears.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we obviously discussed this with China at the time, when we were negotiating the agreement.

I can remember myself in the late 1990s raising this question directly with the then Foreign Minister, Chen Chien-jen.

And China always seemed comfortable with the idea, and as a matter of fact I understand from my department in more recent times, they’ve said they’re pleased that we have this arrangement in place because it means that it strengthens the overall security and safeguards of any civil nuclear industry in Taiwan.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Even though the deals were signed a year ago, no Australian uranium is yet powering nuclear reactors in Taiwan as both BHP Billiton and ERA have until now committed their entire supply contracts to other customers.

ELEANOR HALL: Andrew Geoghegan reporting.