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Australia set to sell uranium to China
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03/28/2006 04:11 PM
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Australia set to sell uranium to China
March 28, 2006 - 11:00AM
Australia and China are set to sign off on a deal next week which will open the door to uranium sales between the two countries.
Prime Minister John Howard has confirmed it's possible a uranium safeguards agreement will be signed next week, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Australia.
The safeguards deal will open the way for China to begin negotiations to buy uranium from local companies, including BHP Billiton which owns 30 per cent of reserves in Australia.
But states governments are standing firm against a change in Labor's three-mines uranium policy, which will hamper China's desire to explore for the metal in Australia.
Mr Howard flagged a possible signing of a deal during Mr Wen's visit.
"Discussions with the Chinese have been going on for some time," he said.
"It's possible that the discussions could be satisfactorily concluded so that something could be said or signed when the Chinese premier visits Australia next week.
"It's possible. I don't want to say that will happen but it is quite possible."
Beijing is more certain the deal will get the green light during the official visit.
In Beijing this week, a Chinese government spokesman told reporters the draft texts of the agreements for both nations had been completed and it was likely they would be signed.
Since August last year, Australia and China have been discussing the safeguards agreement, which would prevent Australian uranium exported to China being used for weapons or to replace domestic uranium supplies used to build nuclear weapons.
But opponents warn an agreement will be no guarantee of safety.
Australian Greens senator Christine Milne said China had a bad record when it came to nuclear weapons proliferation.
"China has provided missile technology in the past to North Korea, to Libya, to Pakistan, and was also implicated in selling technology to Iran," she said.
Senator Milne questioned the government's assertion that uranium exported to China would only be used for peaceful purposes.
"How can they (ensure) that when China has insisted that all uranium leaving Australia be processed in China, and all the processing facilities are in military facilities... which they can refuse to have inspected?" she said.
Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison said Australia had a poor record on safely mining uranium so handing over the job to China hardly instilled confidence.
She called on Labor state governments to resist a push by the commonwealth to allow further uranium exploration within their borders.
Two of the biggest mining states, WA and Queensland, both indicated they had no plans to overturn anti-uranium mining policies.
WA Premier Alan Carpenter said while the state's trading relationship with China was important, Labor's opposition to uranium exploration and mining leases in the state would continue.
"When we issue them (exploration leases), we issue them with a proviso that uranium mining will not be allowed. That won't change", he said.
Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said his state would not be opening any more uranium mines.
"We have a good relationship with the Chinese, they also are big buyers of our coal and I want to make sure that they continue to be big purchasers or our coal," he told ABC radio.
"... but are we going to have any more uranium mines?
"From the Queensland government point of view, the answer's no."
Investors, however, are banking on a change to Labor's three mines policy, with uranium stocks powering ahead following the prime minister's comments.
[link to www.theage.com.au]
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