Three years after signing a civilian nuclear supply treaty, the Federal Government confirmed overnight the first shipment of Australian uranium has left for India.Foreign Minister Julie Bishop provided little detail about the inaugural sale, saying only that it was subject to commercial negotiations.The supply deal with India, signed in 2014, is the first of its kind Australia has made with a country not party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.At the time, then-prime minister Tony Abbott said Australian uranium could play a reliable long-term role in supplying India’s growing energy needs.But it was not until last night, in a brief and low key announcement, that Ms Bishop said the first shipment was finally en route.
It is not clear how big the shipment is, where it departed from, or where in India it might be heading.
Indian officials were unable to immediately provide comment, while the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said only that the details were subject to commercial negotiation.
Parliament only passed the final legislation enabling sales last December, following years of debate about supplying uranium to a country with a strategic nuclear weapons program and that refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty.
Parliamentary hearings to ratify the supply treaty in 2014 heard the International Atomic Energy Agency still had concerns about India’s safeguards.
Ongoing tensions between India and its neighbour Pakistan, which also has not signed the non-proliferation treaty, have raised the spectre of armed confrontation in the past.
But Ms Bishop said the Government was confident Australian uranium would not be misused.
“We cleared all of the parliamentary requirements for the civilian nuclear supply agreement, and we see India as a country that has adhered to its non-proliferation assurances,” she said.
Commercial considerations are the most likely explanation for why it has taken so long to send any uranium at all.
Prices and demand have languished near historic lows ever since the Fukushima disaster in 2011 turned many countries off nuclear power.
But in May, India announced plans to build 10 new reactors, a $14 billion move the Australian Government hopes will eventually provide 7,000 megawatts of clean electricity.