Nuclear exports & safeguards

Nuclear Exports 

Australia's uranium export policy acknowledges the strategic significance which distinguishes uranium from other energy commodities and has consistently recognised that special arrangements need to be put in place to distinguish between the civil and military applications of nuclear energy.

The policy provides assurances that exported uranium and its derivatives cannot benefit the development of nuclear weapons or be used in other military programs. This is done by precisely accounting for amounts of Australian-Obligated Nuclear Material (AONM) as it moves through the nuclear fuel cycle.

The policy also recognises the needs of customer countries and the nuclear industry for predictability about the way Australia exercises the non-proliferation conditions governing its uranium supply.

In summary, Australia's policy is that:

  • Australian uranium may only be exported for peaceful non-explosive purposes under Australia's network of bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements, which provide for:
    • coverage by IAEA safeguards
    • fallback safeguards in the event that IAEA safeguards no longer apply for any reason
    • prior Australian consent for any transfer of AONM to a third party, for any enrichment beyond 20 per cent of uranium-235 and for reprocessing of AONM
    • physical security requirements.  
  • Australia retains the right to be selective as to the countries with which it is prepared to conclude safeguards arrangements
  • Non-nuclear weapon state customer countries must at a minimum be a party to the NPT and have concluded a fullscope safeguards Agreement with the IAEA
  • Nuclear weapon state customer countries must provide an assurance that AONM will not be diverted to non-peaceful or explosive uses and accept coverage of AONM by IAEA safeguards
  • Commercial contracts for the export of Australian uranium should include a clause noting that the contract is subject to the relevant bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement
  • The Australian Government has further tightened Australia's export policy by making an Additional Protocol with the IAEA (providing for strengthened safeguards) a pre-condition for the supply of Australian obligated uranium to all states.

Australia now has 24 nuclear cooperation agreements in force, allowing exports to 42 countries plus Taiwan.

Regulation within Australia

In Australia, uranium mining is currently allowed only in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland with exploration allowed in New South Wales. The Northern Territory is required to give effect to the advice of the Commonwealth government before approving mines.

As well as compliance with the general mining regulatory framework, additional laws are in place to manage radiation protection and establish export controls.

Uranium mining is a prescribed nuclear action under the Commonwealth the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Before any uranium mine can be developed in Australia, it must be assessed and approved by the federal and state or territory governments. A typical assessment and approval process takes at least three years from referral to ministerial approval.

All mining activity, including uranium mining, has an environmental impact which is moderated through environment assessment and approval processes, mining conditions and performance monitoring and reporting.

The environmental performance of the uranium industry is scrutinised comprehensively with detailed reporting requirements.

Nuclear non-proliferation

When processed, uranium can be used to produce electricity. However, it can also be used to make nuclear weapons.

Australia works with other countries under “nuclear non-proliferation” arrangements to ensure uranium is only used for peaceful purposes. The Australian uranium industry strongly supports efforts by government to uphold and strengthen these arrangements.

Australian uranium can only be sold to countries with which Australia has a nuclear cooperation agreement which also have safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including an Additional Protocol.

Having an Additional Protocol in force means that the IAEA has access to additional information to assist in checking that uranium is not being used to make weapons. The IAEA can report problems to the United Nations Security Council.

Australian legislation covering the regulation of uranium is managed by the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO). 

Under our nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries, our uranium is measured through the nuclear fuel cycle. ASNO is responsible for checking where Australian uranium is used overseas. This information is reported to the government and Parliament once a year.

Australia will only trade with countries with which it has a legally binding nuclear cooperation agreement and meets export policy requirements. Australia can sell uranium to many countries including most European countries (such as France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Germany), China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, Canada and the United States.