Australia is considering uranium exports to China and has begun discussions with Beijing on whether it can commit to Australian rules that the product not be used for military purposes, the government said yesterday.
Australian mining company WMC Resources LTD is pushing for the exports to develop its Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine in southern Australia, which produces 8 percent of the world's uranium while holding 33 percent of the global reserves.
China currently cannot legally receive Australian uranium exports, and the government must negotiate Beijing's commitment to adhere to strict controls barring the uranium for atomic bombs, depleted-uranium weapons or the propulsion of warships.
Ratifying such a pact could take several months or years.
The talks, which began at the request of WMC, are at an early stage, said a spokesman for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
"We'll only do this where a suitable agreement is in place," spokesman Chris Kenny said.
Australian nuclear nonproliferation officials are involved in the talks with Beijing about whether it can meet Australia's export conditions, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said.
"It's explaining the process Australia requires for uranium sales, and uranium is only sold under a strict regime of bilateral nuclear safeguards agreements," the spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.
"I wouldn't want to say that these specific negotiations could be negotiated within a period of months because we don't know what issues China may raise and we don't know to what extent they would agree to a standard text of an agreement," the spokesman said. "We don't have any feel for that at this stage."
Any agreement with China would be scrutinized by Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.