Bilateral Civil Nuclear Agreement

    NEW DELHI (TIP): As widely expected, India and Australia signed a bilateral civil nuclear agreement, September 5 which enables India to secure uranium from Australia to meet its energy requirements. The deal was announced by visiting Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, after talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi late on Friday, September 5.

    Talks have been under way since Australia lifted a long-standing ban on selling uranium to power-starved India in 2012. The fact that India had already signed civil nuclear agreements with the US and Canada made things easier. The Australian deal took just 18 months to negotiate after former Prime Minister Julia Gillard overturned her party’s previous policy of not selling uranium to a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

    Emphasizing that India was a “fully functioning democracy with the rule of law”, Abbott had said that “if Australia was prepared to sell uranium to Russia then “surely we ought to be prepared to provide uranium to India, under suitable safeguards.” Abbott had earlier stressed that Australia would ensure adequate safeguards. After the failure to conclude a civil nuclear deal with Japan during Modi’s visit to that country, the pact with Australia will boost India’s energy sector.

    India operates 20 nuclear reactors, mostly small, at six sites, with a capacity of 4,780 MW. This accounts for a meager 2 per cent of overall capacity, according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India. The Government hopes to increase the nuclear capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032 by adding about 30 reactors, at a cost of $85 billion. Australia, which has no nuclear power plants of its own, holds 31 per cent of the world’s uranium reserves and is one of the top exporters of the commodity.

    According to official data, it mined 7,529 tons of uranium, worth A$782 million, in 2011-12. Four Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) were signed between the two nations. The first related to peaceful use of nuclear energy. The agreement outlines Australia’s role not just as a reliable long-term supplier of uranium to India but also the production of radio isotopes and nuclear safety. MoUs on water resources management, cooperation in technical education and training, and exchange programs in sports were also signed.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the nuclear deal as a “historic milestone that shows a new level of trust” and said he would undertake a bilateral visit to Australia, the first by an Indian PM since 1986, after the G- 20 meeting in Brisbane in November. With bilateral trade declining, Modi said both countries were committed to an early conclusion of a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation.

    “India has scrupulously dotted the Is and crossed the Ts in every international agreement,” said Abbott. He also announced that the CECA will be finalized by next year, saying, “we owe it to our people”. Modi also invited investments in the infrastructure and hi-tech sectors. There were vast possibilities to increase trade ties with Australia, he felt. Abbott stated that the country would provide speedy clearance to Indian investments in pipelines. Modi also the two countries would hold their first joint naval exercise next year.

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