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A national uranium policy for Australia?

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COMMENTS

26 October 2012 09:38

Michael Angwin is Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Uranium Association.

In the last week, two major policy decisions have accelerated the pace of Australian uranium policy reform.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed with her Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, to negotiate a treaty for the export of Australian uranium to India. And the Queensland Government decided to allow uranium mining there after 30 years of inactivity and bans.

The Australia-India initiative is an agreement between two nations to trade in a mineral of which one country is a major producer and which the other needs in order to build an electricity generation industry that will help alleviate the poverty of 400 million of its citizens who have no or limited access to electricity. This mutuality is a foundation of the Australia-India relationship. 

The Prime Minister's initiative in changing her party's and her government's policy has elevated uranium to a strategic policy issue for Australia. This is not surprising given the increasing demand for nuclear power, especially in Asia, over the next 25 years, and given Australia's massive uranium endowment.

It is hard to envisage how Australian uranium development can for much longer remain subject to low-politics domestic political division, given the contrasting high-politics international political relationships that it now supports.

Indeed, the decision of the Queensland Government to support uranium mining is a direct consequence of the Prime Minister's Indian initiative. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has completed the circle as far as Queensland is concerned. He has connected his state's domestic uranium production policy with the national government's global uranium export policy. There is now a clear line of sight between uranium development in Queensland and Australia's national interest.

These two initiatives are the latest in a long line of reforms over the last seven years, including:

  • The Howard Government's commencement of a serious uranium reform program in the middle of the last decade.
  • Former PM Rudd's change to his party's uranium policy, leading to national political bipartisanship in favour of uranium development and opening the way for new export treaties.
  • His and the Gillard Government's approval of several uranium projects on the grounds that they represented world's best practice and posed no credible threat to the environment.
  • Those governments' completion of uranium export treaties with Russia and China.
  • The Barnett Government's support for uranium development in Western Australia.
  • The O'Farrell Government's removal of bans on uranium exploration.

While political parties in some states still have to catch up, Australia now has what is beginning to look like a complete and fully articulated national uranium policy: domestic uranium development and production within a 'best practice' framework with exports in Australia's national interest to help build international relationships.

Photo by Flickr user Alberto OG.

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