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India doesn't need Australian uranium for weapons

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This post is part of the Selling Australian uranium to India debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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13 December 2011 08:35


This post is part of the Selling Australian uranium to India debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

John Carlson is a Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute and the former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office.

One of the objections to supplying uranium to India is that it will free up India's own uranium for its nuclear weapons program. This argument is nonsense: it could just as easily be argued that supplying India with any energy resource — coal, or natural gas, or wind turbines — could free up uranium for military use.

Countries that have determined they need nuclear weapons will ensure they have the necessary uranium regardless of cost. Uranium is a widespread mineral, and all countries have some uranium resources if cost is no object — it can even be recovered from seawater. In a competition between nuclear weapons and nuclear power, priority will be given to nuclear weapons, as there are many other options available for generating electricity. For example, some 50% of India's electricity is now generated with coal.

India has decided on nuclear energy for the various advantages it offers — clean air, reliability, huge reduction in transport and storage requirements compared with coal, and so on. For these reasons, and also increasing concern about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, India has an ambitious program for expanding the use of nuclear energy. India needs to import uranium to fuel this expansion.

To give some practical context to the claim: to operate a 1000 megawatt power reactor requires around 200 tonnes of uranium a year — 20 such reactors require 4000 tonnes of uranium every year. To produce one nuclear weapon requires as little as 5 tonnes of uranium, a quantity easily met from India's domestic uranium production. The needs of a military program are insignificant compared with those of a power program.

Of course we hope India will come to understand the folly of producing more nuclear weapons, and will join the efforts of other countries towards reducing and eliminating these weapons. For Australia to deny India uranium, however, would have absolutely no influence on India's actions.

Photo by Flickr user Gregory Tonon.

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