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Australia says no China uranium exploration deal

Written by: Staff

CANBERRA, Mar 29 (Reuters) Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said the government was not negotiating an agreement to allow China access to uranium exploration rights, and the two countries were only discussing a deal to govern uranium trade.

Australia and China hope to sign a nuclear safeguards pact when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Canberra next week, but a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said on Monday that a deal on uranium exploration and exploitation was also being discussed.

''My understanding is that what we have been negotiating with China doesn't go to exploration rights or access to that,'' Vaile told the National Press Club today.

He said any Chinese proposal to invest in an Australian uranium mine would, like any other, be subject to approval by Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board and uranium export and safeguards requirements would also apply.

Australia, which has more than 40 per cent of the world's known reserves of uranium, requires countries to have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to agree a separate nuclear safeguards deal with Canberra before it will export uranium.

An ACNielsen poll, published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper today, showed that 49 per cent of Australians supported selling uranium to China with strict conditions, while 44 per cent were not in favour.

NO INDIA DEAL Vaile also reiterated Prime Minister John Howard's position that Australia was not considering changing its policy on uranium trade to allow exports of the mineral to India.

China is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but India which conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and in 1998 and has declared itself a nuclear weapons state, is not.

Yet Australia is sending officials to India next month to find out more about a US deal under which India would receive U.S. nuclear technology in return for separating its military and civil facilities and opening civilian plants to inspections.

Howard said that while he supported the US deal, Australia was not considering a change in its uranium trade policy.

The ACNielsen poll of 1,442 people showed that 52 per cent supported selling uranium to India with strict conditions, while 40 per cent were against the idea.

China is expected to build 40 to 50 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years, while India is looking to boost its nuclear power industry, which currently accounts for only 3 percent of energy production.

Australia has 19 nuclear safeguard agreements, covering 36 countries, including the United States, France, Britain, Mexico, Japan, Finland and South Korea.

It has only three operating uranium mines, which are owned by BHP Billiton,Rio Tinto and General Atomics of the United States.


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