Indian Decade

India, Australia Press Ahead on Possible Uranium Sales

Nuclear cooperation will top the agenda of Australian Prime Minister Gillard’s trip to India next week.

India and Australia are set to make a major announcement when Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrives in New Delhi to hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on October 15. Specifically, they reportedly will begin formal negotiations on a nuclear energy cooperation agreement to better facilitate uranium sales between the two countries.

Diplomatic sources here said the actual signing of an Indo-Australian nuclear deal will be a long-term goal that might take years to be realized. However, this month’s announcement will provide a much needed boost to India-Australia relations that have suffered from Australia’s continued refusal to sell uranium to India. Inking a nuclear agreement will go a long way towards resolving this issue.

Gillard has played a key role in reversing Australia’s policy on uranium sales to India, starting with her decision in late 2011 to lift a decades-old ban on selling uranium to India in December of last year. For its part, India has been engaged with various parts of the Australian government, urging it to review Australia’s nuclear policy with India particularly since India was granted a waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008.

The eventual nuclear deal with Australia will be a game changer for India’s nuclear industry as Australia is believed to hold around 40 percent of the world’s known uranium reserves. Australia has long sold uranium to a number of countries– including the U.S., China, Japan and Taiwan– but has refused to cooperate with India in the nuclear realm because India is not a signatory to the NPT and has made clear it has no intention of becoming one in the foreseeable future.

A handful of other agreements are expected to be signed during Gillard’s upcoming visit, and the two sides will also discuss ways to better protect Indian students studying in Australia. There have been numerous incidents in recent years of Indian students being brutally attacked in Australia, resulting in the deaths of 34 Indian students between the years of 2004 and 2010, according to the Federation of Indian Students of Australia.