“I do want Australia to be an energy superpower in the years ahead. We have large reserves of uranium. We have massive reserves of coal. We have extensive reserves of gas. We are the world’s second largest thermal coal exporter. India has an absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record……..it (India) has been a model international citizen. India threatens no one.”
These quotes by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott while speaking to journalists during his recently-concluded India visit clearly showed where his Liberal-National coalition government was headed in the coming years, but this story is as much about India as Australia.
Over the weekend, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Abbott concluded a long-pending civil nuclear deal, which involves the supply of uranium from Canberra to India. The Indian press hailed it as the “most significant step” taken by India in the wake of the 2006 India-US civil nuclear deal, but over in Australia, the Greens and a section of the media criticized Mr Abbott’s move, saying India had refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and so the supply of uranium to such a country could have “dangerous” implications for the future.
Without doubt, the Aussie PM was on the back foot, not unlike his famous cricket team which is seen often playing aggressively while on a tour of India. He took pains to explain that “we signed a nuclear cooperation agreement because Australia trusts India to do the right thing in this area, as it has been doing in other areas.”
The supply talks started years ago but several previous Labour Australian governments, before Mr Abbott’s Government came in, were not so keen on it. For India, the uranium thaw is wonderful news, more so, because it had previously signed similar agreements with France and Russia, to help tackle its looming energy crisis. Australia, incidentally, has a third of the world’s uranium reserves.
All uranium is welcome in India, which currently has 20 small nuclear reactors within six plants but operates only a few. The government’s stated goal is to raise its nuclear energy capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032.