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Australian Parliament Opposes Uranium To Russia

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd: "Global situation is now complex"
CANBERRA (Reuters) -- A powerful Australian parliamentary committee has urged the government to postpone plans to sell uranium to Russia, saying it could not be sure Moscow would continue to honor nonproliferation obligations.

The committee, dominated by members of the ruling center-left Labor Party, also said recent events, with Russia's military incursion into Georgia, should be considered before Australia allows uranium to be sold to Russia for nuclear power.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said his government would take its time considering the recommendations, but Australia would work with other governments when considering how to deal with Russia following last month's military incursion into Georgia.

"Obviously the global situation in relation to the Russian Federation is now complex as a result of what we have seen in Georgia, and most particularly with South Ossetia," Rudd told reporters.

Russia has previously warned it would regard any decision to abandon a bilateral nuclear agreement as "politically biased" and one that could also harm Australian economic interests.

Australia has 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves and is second to Canada as the world's leading supplier. But Canberra only sells uranium for peaceful purposes, and to countries that have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

'Bad Deal'

Australia, which has no nuclear power or nuclear weapons, also demands countries sign a bilateral nuclear safeguards agreement on the use of uranium before it will allow the nuclear fuel to be exported.

Former Australian conservative Prime Minister John Howard and former Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement last September to expand uranium sales in a deal they hoped would be worth up to $784 million a year.

But Australia's parliamentary Treaties Committee said uranium sales to Russia should not happen until the country can clearly separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities, and until the International Atomic Energy Agency can carry out inspections.

The government also needed to be fully satisfied Russia will not abandon the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and comply fully with its international nuclear obligations, it said.

The Australian Greens said Rudd now had all the evidence needed to abandon the uranium deal with Russia.

"This is a bad deal for Australia, and there is no guarantee Australian uranium won't be used to free up Russian domestic uranium for their weapons program," Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said. "We need to breathe life and confidence into the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, rather than undermining undermining it with deals with nuclear-armed Russia."