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Australia's Labor party reverses ban on uranium exports to India

"We need to make sure that across our regions we have the strongest possible relationships we can, including with the world's largest democracy, India," PM Julia Gillard said.

twitter-logoAssociated Press | December 5, 2011 | Updated 10:04 IST

Australia's ruling party voted on Sunday to overturn a long-standing ban on exporting uranium to India, despite fierce opposition from critics who argued such sales are unsafe because India has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

The motion passed by a vote of 206 to 185.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged members of her center-left Labor Party during its annual conference to allow the exports in the interest of the national economy, arguing there are safeguards in place to ensure the uranium would be used for peaceful purposes.

"We need to make sure that across our regions we have the strongest possible relationships we can, including with the world's largest democracy, India," Gillard said. "That's why today we should determine to change our platform and enable us, under safeguards, to sell uranium to India."

The party's vote to amend an executive policy does not need parliamentary approval.

Australia holds 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves. It does not sell uranium on the open market and bans nuclear power generation at home. But it sells uranium only for the purpose of power generation under strict conditions, banning any military applications, in bilateral trade agreements with the United States, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and several European countries.

Australia's previous conservative government started negotiations with energy-hungry India on uranium sales. But the Labor government immediately ended the talks when it came to power in 2007, ruling out exports unless New Delhi signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Gillard had previously noted that the US lifted a "de facto international ban" on nuclear cooperation with India in 2005 when it signed a deal with New Delhi to trade uranium and work together on civil atomic power generation.

But many Labor lawmakers slammed the policy change, arguing that selling uranium to India in the wake of this year's nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in Japan, the 1979 partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island reactor in the US and other nuclear accidents was irresponsible and out of touch.

Labor Sen. Doug Cameron won a standing ovation from the crowd after a fiery speech in which he called the amendment "nonsense".

"Prime Minster, you are wrong! Ministers, you are wrong!" he shouted to thunderous applause. "This is a bad move for the Labor Party, it's a bad move for international peace."

Others argued that India was too important an economic power to ignore.

"India, like China, is a rising superpower and it has to be upfront and center in our foreign policy and our foreign trade," said Labor member Richard Marles. "(This amendment) will pave the way for our two countries to fulfill our shared destiny as nations and friends."

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