Issues raised in evidence
This chapter considers a range of issues raised in evidence which
address whether Australia can supply nuclear material to India consistent with its
obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the South
Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Rarotonga Treaty). It summarises the concerns
raised by some submitters as well as the benefits of the bill. It concludes
with the committee's view and recommendation.
Conflict with international obligations
Some submitters argued that Australia may be in breach of its
international obligations under both the NPT and the Rarotonga Treaty. Under
the NPT, Australia undertook not to in any way to assist, encourage, or induce
any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear
weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Under the Rarotonga Treaty, Australia undertook not to take any action to
assist or encourage the manufacture or acquisition of any nuclear explosive
device by any state.
Under both of these treaties, Australia has a responsibility to ensure that
nuclear material transferred to India is not used for, and does not contribute
to, the production of nuclear weapons.
Evidence from Mr John Carlson, Former Director General of the Australia
Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office and non-resident Fellow of the Lowy
Institute, argued that 'this bill attempts to make lawful actions that, at the
least, are questionable in international law, namely, approval of nuclear
supply to India under the Australia-India nuclear cooperation agreement.'
Likewise, Mr Ernst Willheim, Visiting Fellow, ANU College of Law, argued
that the bill would have no direct effect if Australia's nuclear exports to
India were in fact consistent with Australia's relevant obligations and
The only possible operation for the proposed legislation
would be in circumstances where there was an actual or alleged breach of
Australia’s obligations or an actual or alleged failure to observe procedures.
In those circumstances the proposed legislation would seemingly validate what
might otherwise be invalid. The obvious inference is that the Government is
contemplating action that may be inconsistent with Australia’s obligations or
the exercise of powers or functions without regard to those obligations and
that the Government wishes prospectively to validate such activities. 
The Australia Conservation Foundation argued that the Agreement
between the Government of Australia and the Government of India on Cooperation
in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (the Agreement), aided by this bill,
would serve to increase nuclear safety and security concerns. It stated that
the Agreement fails to advance non-proliferation outcomes and is in clear
conflict with Australia’s international obligations under the Rarotonga Treaty.
The Foundation noted that the Rarotonga Treaty also obliges signatories not to supply
equipment or material to countries, including India, not under full scope
The Uniting Church in Australia expressed concern that the bill grants
significant domestic legal protection to private corporations in order to grant
them certainty over profits on potential uranium exports to India.
It argued that uranium trade with India undermines a fundamental principle of
the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime: the principle that only
signatories to the NPT can engage in international nuclear trade for their
civilian nuclear programs.
Similarly, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War argued that
exporting to India 'sends a strong signal to NPT signatories that the treaty
has no future value. With the proposed legislation Australia is signalling that
commercial interests outweigh the international safeguards provided by the NPT.'
Mr Ernst Willheim also argued that, although the bill would cure any
invalidity arising from breaches of Australia’s obligations under domestic law,
the legislation would not have any effect in relation to Australia’s
obligations as a matter of international law.'
As India is not a signatory to the NPT, submitters raised a number of
concerns, including that:
Australia cannot be certain that subsequent generations of
transferred material will not be used for weapons development;
India’s nuclear industry is the subject of continuing and
unresolved safety problems and regulatory deficiencies;
India does not have clear separation between its civil and
military nuclear programs;
imported uranium frees up India's domestic reserves to be used for
its nuclear weapons program.
Principle of pursuit
Mr John Carlson expressed his concern that the India-IAEA safeguards
agreement may not be fully consistent with NPT safeguards requirements,
specifically, the 'principle of pursuit'.
The principle requires that safeguards must apply not only to the nuclear
material supplied, but to all subsequent generations of nuclear material
produced by or through the use of that material. As Mr Carlson explained:
...the India-IAEA safeguards
agreement does not fully meet this principle. Because the NCA [the
Australia-India Agreement] depends on the operation of the India-IAEA
agreement, deficiencies in the latter agreement impact directly on the NCA...While
the India-IAEA agreement compromises the principle of pursuit with respect to
plutonium production (a highly sensitive stage of the fuel cycle), the NPT
allows no such compromise. Faced with an agreement such as the India-IAEA
agreement that does not fully reflect NPT requirements, an NPT party must
ensure that its NPT obligations are met in full.
This principle is written into the Australia-India NCA
[Article III.1.(d)], but the effect of the NCA is qualified through its
dependence on the terms of the India-IAEA agreement. As I pointed out in my
submissions to JSCOT, this is a major weakness in the NCA. The India-IAEA
agreement allows India to use safeguarded material, which could include AONM,
to produce unsafeguarded plutonium.
Mr Carlson suggested that the bill be amended to require that the person
exercising the relevant power must be satisfied that not only is the exported
nuclear material subject to safeguards under the India-IAEA agreement, but that
all its subsequent generations of nuclear material produced or processed will
be as well.
This issue was discussed during the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
(JSCOT) inquiry into the Agreement. Dr Robert Floyd, Director General of the
Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Authority, assured the committee that
the provisions of the India-IAEA agreement would prevent such a situation
occurring. Dr Floyd made it clear that India’s obligations under the agreement prohibit
Australian nuclear material from being used for military purposes at all times.
Unresolved safety and regulatory
A number of submitters presented their concerns that India's nuclear
industry has unresolved safety and regulatory issues.
The Uniting Church in Australia noted that India had scored poorly on the 2016
nuclear security index produced by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which
suggested that India's security conditions could be improved by strengthening
on-site protection, controls, and accounting and noted:
India’s nuclear materials security conditions remain
adversely affected by its continued increase in quantities of nuclear material,
high levels of corruption among public officials, and the presence of groups
interested in and capable of illicitly acquiring nuclear materials.
The Australian Conservation Foundation noted that the Indian
Auditor-General's report in 2012 highlighted continuing safety and regulatory
deficiencies, and warned of a disaster similar to Fukushima or Chernobyl if
nuclear safety issues were not addressed:
The concerns highlighted in this report, including lax
regulation, poor governance and a deficient safety culture, remain largely
unaddressed. Given that Australian uranium directly fuelled the Fukushima
nuclear crisis it is incumbent on Australia, as a potential uranium supplier to
India, to take these concerns seriously and take explicit action to confirm the
status of industry compliance with the Auditor-General’s recommendations.
Likewise, the Synod referred to media reports that emphasized on-going
safety concerns regarding India’s nuclear reactors, and drew attention to
India's lack of an independent nuclear regulatory agency.
The Australian Conservation Foundation's argued that:
[India] does not allow International Atomic Energy Agency
inspections of all its nuclear plants, refuses to sign the Comprehensive Test
Ban Treaty and continues to expand its nuclear arsenal and missile
capabilities. India’s continuing tension with Pakistan makes the
sub-continent is one of the world’s most precarious nuclear hot spots.
Separation of civil and military
Submitters expressed their concern that India does not have clear
separation between its civil and military nuclear programs.
The Synod expressed its alarm that the bill makes no mention of the
recommendations of the JSCOT report, in particular recommendation three. It argued
that there is no formal verification of whether facilities in the 'civilian
unsafeguarded' stream are contributing nuclear material to India’s nuclear
Similarly, Mr Carlson argued that although India has excluded several
major 'civilian' facilities from permanent safeguards, the India-IAEA agreement
still allows India to use Australian material in those reactors.
Mr Carlson suggested that as India is not prepared to fully separate its
military and civil programs, an alternative approach would be to require that Australian
material be used only in a permanently safeguarded facility, and listed in an annex
to the India-IAEA agreement.
Imported uranium would free up India's domestic reserves for weapons
The Australian Conservation Foundation and the Medical Association for
the Prevention of War expressed concern that the provision of Australian
uranium to India would indirectly facilitate the expansion of India’s military
Both argued that even if Australian uranium does not go directly to
India's nuclear weapons program, the use of imported uranium in civilian
nuclear reactors would free up domestic reserves to be used for weapons
development. They cited the former head of India's global strategic development
task force, who stated in 2005:
Given India's uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our
minimum credible deterrent as fast as possible, it is to India's advantage to
categorise as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refuelled
by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapon-grade
Subjective wording of the bill
Mr Carlson also expressed his concern that the bill uses a subjective
standard rather than an objective standard based on facts. Clause 8 of the bill
states that 'the person exercising the power or the performing the function is satisfied
that the nuclear material or nuclear-related item will be subject to safeguards
under the India-IAEA agreements if supplied to a place in India'.
Mr Carlson suggested removing the subjective wording of 'satisfied' to
create an objective standard. The clause would instead state that: 'the nuclear
material or nuclear-related item will be subject to safeguards under the
India-IAEA agreements if supplied to a place in India.'
Expected benefits of the bill
The committee received evidence which demonstrated that India's plan to significantly
increase its nuclear energy supply presents a range of potential economic benefits
for Australia exporters over the medium and long term.
As well as potentially increasing Australia's export revenue and regional
employment opportunities, India’s nuclear energy expansion is likely to make a
valuable contribution to a reduction in carbon emissions. It will also help to
power economic growth and poverty reduction in the world’s fastest growing
Nuclear cooperation will also contribute to a strengthening of bilateral ties
between Australia and India.
Clarification of Australia's
As the NPT and the Rarotonga Treaty include provisions in relation to
safeguards that apply to Australia's nuclear exports to India, there is
potential for alternative interpretations of the relevant safeguards
obligations. According to DFAT, the bill will ensure that there is no
uncertainty under Australian law that could hinder uranium exports to India.
The Minerals Council of Australia agreed noting that:
[t]he bill clears away any concern and ambiguity on the
legality of uranium sales to India. It was always envisaged that India’s
uniqueness following on from the 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group decision, might
require a bill of this kind to clarify Australia’s relevant international
obligations for the purposes of the relevant laws.
It also noted that the Australia-India Agreement was entered into with
bipartisan support; negotiations were commenced by the Labor government in 2013
and completed by the Coalition government in 2014: 'the potential need for a
bill such as this was understood as far back as 2011 when the ALP amended its
policy on uranium sales to India.'
According to DFAT, India represents a modest market for Australian
uranium in the short term, but with huge growth potential over the long term. Timely
engagement in the Indian market would maximise the opportunity for Australian
uranium export companies,
with India's potential uranium demand likely to generate substantial construction
and operational jobs in regional Australia.
India aims to supply 25 per cent of its energy from nuclear power by
2050 and currently has 22 operable reactors, five more under construction, 20
planned within the next eight to ten years, and a further 44 have been proposed.
Australia has nearly a third of the world's uranium resources and approximately
10 per cent of global production.
Australia produces around 7 000 tonnes of uranium ore concentrates each year.
The Department of Atomic Energy in India stated India's intention to buy up to
1 500 tonnes of uranium from Australia over the next five years.
According to the Minerals Council of Australia, India could be generating
over 800 TWh of nuclear power by 2040, requiring around 18 000 tonnes of
uranium per annum.
Australia could sustainably target 30 per cent of this demand, which is
approximately equivalent to Australia’s entire uranium exports in 2014-15 of 5 515
tonnes. It noted:
Australian exporters are currently having preliminary
commercial negotiations with Indian customers who are keen to secure Australian
uranium. Access to Australian uranium will increase India’s ability to obtain
material which could in turn assist Indian reactor capacity uptake and also
provide India with supply security and diversity. Australian exporters are well
poised to take advantage of this growth opportunity in India as logistically it
is significantly closer to Australia than other countries Australia currently
However, the Uniting Church of Australia expressed scepticism at India's
plans to increase its nuclear power supply, citing the International Energy
Agency's assessment that, 'despite the Indian Government’s stated wishes, a
realistic assessment is that even under the current policy setting the nuclear
share of total generation will barely double from 3 per cent currently to 7 per
cent by 2040.'
Other countries export uranium to
A number of submitters pointed out that India has already entered into a
number of agreements with other countries to meet its demand for uranium
According to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, India
currently sources the majority of its uranium supply from Russia, Kazakhstan
The Minerals Council of Australia agreed, noting that:
Australia already lags Canada who’s first exports to India
occurred in late 2015, following the conclusion of a contract for 3220 tonnes,
concluded earlier in the year. In September 2016, India and the US moved closer
to the planned construction of six reactors by Westinghouse with the two sides
deciding to immediately commence the work on engineering and site design, and
make an early conclusion of a competitive financing package. Just days ago,
Japan and India concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement, opening the door for
India to import Japanese nuclear technology. 
Submitters critical of the bill argued that it should not be passed
until all the recommendations made by JSCOT have been implemented. The
committee strongly disagrees with this view. The committee acknowledges the
concerns raised by contributors, but believes many of the issues raised were
addressed by JSCOT during its wide-ranging inquiry into the Australia-India
Agreement and fall outside the more limited scope and intent of the bill.
Specifically, the committee is satisfied that the bill provides the
certainty required to give effect to the Australia-India Agreement. It
clarifies that decisions approving civil nuclear transfers to India are taken
not to be inconsistent with, or have been made with due regard to, Australia's
obligations relating to nuclear safeguards. That is its primary purpose.
The committee is of the view that the amendments to the bill proposed by
Mr John Carlson are not necessary. The committee is not convinced the bill uses
a subjective rather than an objective standard. There is no reason why a person
who is 'satisfied' that nuclear material will be subject to safeguards under
the India-IAEA agreements if supplied to India has not reached that conclusion
based on the objective facts.
The committee is satisfied that since 2008, India has met its
commitments to support non-proliferation efforts, continue its moratorium on
nuclear testing, separate its civil and military activities and accept IAEA
safeguards. The committee notes that India is currently working with Australia
to promote negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
The committee notes that submitters critical of the bill are silent on
the important foreign policy backdrop to Australia's nuclear trade with India. As
the DFAT submission highlighted, Australia's relationship with India has
changed fundamentally over the past five years, with a deepening of defence,
security and economic ties: 'It is very much in Australia's interests to
encourage greater, collaborative leadership by India in Indian Ocean and
broader Indo-Pacific security'.
It is in this context that the committee recognises the economic and
security benefits to be gained from Australia's relationship with India, and civil
nuclear transfers consistent with Australia's international obligations will come
to form an important part of that evolving bilateral relationship. At the very
least, increased uranium exports to India will boost employment opportunities
in regional and remote Australia while helping to reduce India's carbon
emissions. The committee commends the bill to the Senate.
The committee recommends that the bill be passed.
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