- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

SYDNEY, Australia — Australia, already a major arms supplier to China, has opened negotiations to become a primary source of uranium for the communist giant’s growing network of nuclear power plants.

The deal, pushed by the government of Prime Minister John Howard, is expected to be signed within 12 months. The plan has the backing of the country’s opposition since it could add millions of dollars to the Australian economy.

China is the world’s second-largest consumer of energy, after the United States. China’s ambassador to Australia, Fu Ying, told a meeting in Canberra last month that her country plans to expand its nuclear program. China has nine nuclear power stations up and running, two in the pipeline, and is planning another 10.

Australia imposed an arms embargo on China after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, but lifted the ban in 1992, and since has grown to be a major arms supplier to China.

Australia also has supported the European Union’s plan to lift arms embargo against China. The United States has opposed the proposal.

Alan Dupont, strategic analyst at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, said the nature of the relationship between Australia and China has changed qualitatively in recent years.

?China is a very large market for energy. It is an engine of growth that Australia wants to be a part of, although politically at times it tends to appear coercive,? he said.

Australia is already a crucial energy supplier for the booming Chinese economy and last year signed a $19.3 billion deal to supply liquefied natural gas and the two countries are expected to begin free-trade talks when Mr. Howard visits Beijing this month.

Australia has 41 percent of the world’s low-cost uranium that can be extracted cheaply. Conservative estimates put the value at $39.3 billion.

Australia sells uranium to more than 20 countries, including the United States, France and Britain. China, a new entrant to the market, is expected to build 40 to 50 nuclear power plants over the next two decades to meet its expanding energy needs. It is predicted that the market will be worth an estimated $60 million.

?[Australia] is setting a dangerous precedent of selling to a new country which is not an open society,? said David Noonan at the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Parliament this month that the deal would only go through if China agreed to safeguards to ensure that the uranium would not be used to build nuclear weapons and would not be given to other countries.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said recently that Washington has not commented on the negotiations, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

But Mr. Noonan said one reason for the silence might be a U.S. plan to sell four nuclear reactors to China — including Westinghouse Electric Co.’s most advanced pressurized water reactor, the AP 1000.

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