Australia risks contributing to the India-Pakistan nuclear arms race.
NEXT month's ALP national conference will be asked to make a decision of global importance: whether to back Prime Minister Julia Gillard's call for Australia to export uranium to India. Australia must decide whether to stand with the vast majority of nations in supporting the principle of nuclear disarmament, or to stand with those who continue to undermine it.
India is not the responsible nuclear citizen that many would have us believe. It has a long history of broken promises and reckless conduct relating to its nuclear programs. In 1974, for instance, the Nuclear Suppliers Group was set up in response to India's ''peaceful'' nuclear weapons testing at the Pokhran testing range. The enriched plutonium required for this explosion was created using a Canadian ''CIRUS'' test reactor and ''heavy water'' supplied by the US. These materials were provided on the basis of India's pledge to use the reactor for peaceful purposes only.
We need to be clear about what is being proposed here. The tensions between India and Pakistan are real. The threat of nuclear war is real. India's most recent nuclear test involved the detonation of a thermonuclear device with three times the yield of the ''Little Boy'' bomb used at Hiroshima in World War II. The test was conducted at a time of high tensions with bordering Pakistan. After the explosion, former Pakistani foreign minister Gohar Ayub said India and Pakistan were locked in a ''headlong arms race on the subcontinent''. If next month's national conference changes Labor's policy on uranium to India, Australia would be fuelling that arms race.
India continues to give assurances that imported materials are solely for civilian use, yet it refuses to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and is yet to ratify the International Atomic Energy Safeguards Agreement.
International monitoring standards are not robust enough to ensure the proper use of exported uranium. Even in the best-case scenario, where Australian uranium does not find its way into India's nuclear weapons, our uranium exports would still free up India's domestic reserves for the production of nuclear weapons. The former head of India's National Security Advisory Board, K. Subrahmanyam, once said ''it is to India's advantage to categorise as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refuelled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium for weapons-grade plutonium production''.
Given the certainty that Australian uranium exports would ultimately assist India's nuclear weapons program, we must examine the possible justifications for the reversal of our nation's principled stand against nuclear proliferation.
One such argument is that Australian uranium exports would benefit the many Indians who continue to live in poverty. But this disregards India's wasteful spending on increasing its nuclear stockpiles. Estimates by Global Zero put this at $US4.9 billion ($A4.9 billion) for 2011.
When considering the interests of Indian citizens, we must also weigh up the increased threat of a nuclear war with Pakistan, which would almost certainly involve the targeting of civilian nuclear facilities. Given recent events in Japan and the patchy record of India's Department of Atomic Energy, there is also the threat of non-military nuclear disaster to consider. According to Princeton professor M.V. Ramana, ''practically all nuclear reactors and other facilities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle operated by [India's Department of Atomic Energy] have had accidents of varying severity''.
The economic case is more compelling from an Australian perspective, based on the jobs that increased uranium exports could be expected to provide. But the employment benefits of uranium exports to India are greatly overstated.
India is, of course, a large economy, but Australia's uranium mining industry, which currently supplies 20 per cent of the world market, accounted for only 645 jobs in 2010-2011. Furthermore, any projection of job growth resulting from uranium exports to India assumes sufficient labour supply - a dubious proposition given the skills shortages in the mining industry. By contrast, recent modelling by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research indicates that employment resulting from a strong commitment to green industries would result in about 770,000 new jobs by 2030. If jobs growth is the primary reason for uranium exports to India, we may well be better off investing in the manufacture of green energy technologies locally and exporting those instead. India has a solar power target of 20 gigawatts by 2020, whereas its nuclear power accounts for less than five gigawatts.
Some people argue it is hypocritical to export uranium to China without supplying it to India. But the facts are that China is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty while India is not. The argument that Australia should forgo its international obligations because of India's ''strategic importance'' ignores the strategic importance of stability in Asia and of the global push for nuclear disarmament. Supplying uranium to India raises questions on whether we would supply uranium to other non-signatories to the treaty, such as Israel or Pakistan - a country that already resents the preferential treatment enjoyed by its neighbour, India.
The argument that the treaty has already been undermined by the US, so Australia might as well join in eroding it, is a cop out. As a leading player in the nuclear cycle, Australia has a global responsibility. Blindly following bad US policy is neither in our best interests nor the world's. It would be a terrible compromise of our nation's principles, and put at risk our enviable reputation as a responsible global citizen for very little short-term gain.
Victorian Senator Gavin Marshall is chairman of the Left federal parliamentary Labor Party caucus.