Australia's Labor party backs uranium sales to India

BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia - undated photo
Image caption Australia is estimated to have about 40% of the world's uranium reserves

Australia's governing Labor party has voted to overturn its long-standing ban on exporting uranium to India.

Australia, which holds an estimated 40% of the world's uranium, already exports it to China, Japan, Taiwan and the US.

The country has excluded sales to India because it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

During a passionate debate on the issue at Labor's annual conference, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the change would be in the country's interests.

Labor delegates to the conference voted 206-185 in favour of the motion to change the party's policy.

"At this conference we should take a decision in the national interest, a decision about strengthening our strategic partnership with India in this the Asian century," Ms Gillard said.

She said any agreement to sell uranium to India would include strict safeguards to ensure it would only be used for civilian purposes, and not end up in nuclear weapons.

Australia's uranium industry has welcomed the policy shift.

The debate exposed divisions within the government, with Transport Minister Anthony Albanese leading arguments against the move.

He said since Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant was badly damaged in an earthquake and tsunami in March, countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Italy were reducing their commitment to nuclear energy.

"Under these circumstances, it is absurd that we should be expanding ours," he said.

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