Australian uranium exported to China not to be used militarily

Australia on Tuesday repeated its insistence that none of its planned uranium exports to China can be used in military aims as the two sides prepared for conversations on how to ensure the materials go only toward peaceful purposes. Last September Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said China could be importing 9,000 tons of uranium a year by 2020, giving it the potential to become Australia's largest customer.

Officials of both countries begin two days of nominee negotiations Wednesday in Canberra on an agreement to ensure all Australian uranium sold to China is put to peaceful use.

On Tuesday a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade statement said the government was confident China would abide by Australian strictures on uranium exports, which prohibits military use and re-exports to third countries.

"We believe China is willing and able to meet Australia's stringent safeguards conditions for uranium supply," the statement said. "Australia will not compromise our strict safeguards requirements. We will ensure that supply of Australian obligated nuclear material will not contribute to any military purpose."

China, the world's second-largest energy consumer, plans to meet its growing demand with a fourfold increase in nuclear energy production by 2020.

Already a confirmed nuclear power along with Russia, Britain, France, India and Pakistan the country has to import most of the uranium it needs as its nuclear program expands.

The United States says it does not oppose Australian uranium sales to China.

However, Australia's small opposition party Greens party has condemned the proposed sales, saying China opposes outside controls on its uranium use.

Uranium mining is a politically sensitive issue in Australia, where output and offshore sales have long been restricted.

Although second to Canada in production, Australia boasts the world's biggest uranium reserves. The Olympic Dam mine in South Australia state holds 38 percent of the world's known uranium resources.

Australia's uranium exports for the year ending June 30, 2005, amounted to 9,000 tons, which earned it A$475 million (US$359 million; euro290 million).

China is Australia's third-largest trading partner, with trade worth about A$29 billion (US$21 billion; euro17 billion) a year. The two countries announced in April they would begin negotiating on a free-trade pact, reports the AP.

D.M.