Why Australia should export uranium to India (Part 2)
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Why Australia should export uranium to India (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

But surely Green opposition to exporting uranium to India would be overwhelming? Not at all.  Professor Tim Flannery, one of the high priests of the climate debate in Australia, has actively lobbied to export uranium to India, and has described Australia’s refusal to sell uranium to India as immoral.

Of course, there would be opposition from those who believe that the debate is not really about carbon dioxide emissions, but about wearing hair shirts.  However, surveys increasingly show that Australians are warming to the potential benefits of nuclear energy, and ultimately a proposal to prevent millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere ought to have its own momentum.

What about the safety of the Indians? If you are worried about radioactive elements in the environment, you should be more worried about coal-fired power stations than nuclear ones. A little known fact is that the fly ash from coal fired power stations contains quite a bit of radioactive material. Frankly, if you don’t like radiation, you are better off living next to a nuclear power station than a coal-fired one. 

However, a much more serious problem for Indians is pollution-related deaths because of a lack of electricity. 

It is estimated that many thousands of Indians die from inhaling smoke from wood and dung fires that they use to cook their food. The bigger picture is the creation of a huge pollution haze – known as the Asian Brown Cloud – that we see on satellite photographs, and that we saw close up during the Beijing Olympics. Some scientists say that the Asian Brown Cloud may be highly significant in its own right in exacerbating global warming.

As for the nuclear proliferation question, if it’s no biggie for the United States, which has signed a nuclear cooperation deal with India, why is it a biggie for us? And can anyone explain how it makes sense that we export uranium to China and not India?

What then, about the rights of Australia’s indigenous communities? Go ask the Martu people of Western Australia about rights. The Martu have been lobbying to have mining bans lifted for years. Royalties from mining on their uranium rich lands would go a hell of a long way towards improving the plight of their people.

There are, of course, obstacles.

Number one is that Australia would need to convince those at the next convenient climate summit to allow uranium exports to be credited as part of a Clean Development Mechanism. The argument for it should be pretty simple and persuasive – if you let us do it, we will save the world hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. The arguments against it would be the same old tired ones that once had currency in the 1980s.

Obstacle number two is that Australia’s ruling Labor Party is at times in thrall to the union movement, including the powerful and financially generous mining unions.

A third potential obstacle is that Kevin Rudd would need to try and get over his apparent obsession with China and turn his attention to that other big country in Asia.

There are credible reports recently that clean coal technology is not going to do the business Australia needs to cut our carbon emissions. There are very real concerns from people who know about base power that solar and wind power won’t do it either. It may also be true that the NIMBY politics of Australia won’t allow the building of nuclear power reactors.

Australia’s path to salvation in cutting world carbon emissions is therefore our sale of uranium. Whether or not we can achieve carbon credits in the process, exporting uranium is the single most important thing Australia could do to cut the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.