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No uranium for Russia, say Oz MPs

'Assurances' needed over intended use

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An Australian parliamentary committee has said that an AU$800m deal to supply Russia with uranium should be put on hold until the latter was able to "assuaged doubts" regarding how it intended to use the material.

Former Oz PM John Howard and Vladimir Putin inked the accord last year, and Russia has insisted "it would only use Australian uranium for civilian purposes, to generate power at home, and would not export it for use elsewhere", as the BBC explains.

However, the committee insisted it needs assurances on Russia's compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and further demanded that any facilities set to receive Australian uranium should be given the once-over by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The committee's report - presented to parliament on Thursday - suggests that "further consideration is given to the potential ramifications for this agreement".

Opposition MPs support the sale, arguing that it's good for business, and that "safeguards against any future military use of the uranium were adequate".

The BBC notes that some reports on the committee's recommendations suggest its stance is influenced by recent events in Georgia. Indeed, Australia's foreign minister Stephen Smith earlier this month "warned that if Russia failed to withdraw its troops from neighbouring Georgia, Australia might withhold approval of the new agreement".

Australia boasts 40 per cent of all the world's uranium reserves. Back in 2006, it agreed to supply China with 20,000 metric tons per year from 2010 for the communist giant's nuclear power industry. The deal was struck in accordance with Australia's policy of selling uranium only to signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty who also sign "a separate bilateral deal stipulating that they will not divert nuclear fuel into weapons programmes".

The then Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, assured: "These agreements establish strict safeguards, arrangements and conditions to ensure Australian uranium supplied to China, and any collaborative programmes in applications of nuclear technology, is used exclusively for peaceful purposes." ®

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