S Australia Premier to reconsider uranium sale

Melbourne: The premier of an Australian province has asked the federal government to reconsider its ban on uranium sale to India, saying it was time for a "rethink" on the policy that he himself steadfastly supported earlier.

Advocating a "sensible discussion" on the issue, the long-serving Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, pointed out that international groups had already ended the nuclear apartheid against India. "We`ve seen various groups… recognising India and so I think it`s probably time to have a rethink on that in terms of the very strict standards that India is now prepared to sign up to," Rann said, suggesting it was time to consider agreeing to India`s desire to import uranium from Australia.

Answering a query on whether Canberra was wrong in banning uranium exports to India, Rann said: "I actually believe it`s probably timely for a sensible discussion about that".

Rann`s remarks came a week after he signed off on approvals for mining major BHP Billiton`s proposal to expand a mine in the state`s far north. "It will be the world`s biggest uranium mine," he said referring to the Olympic Dam mine. Rann was a longstanding opponent of uranium exports to India, and had earlier called potential sales a "grave mistake" and "extremely foolhardy".

While India is Australia`s third-biggest export market, the ruling Labor party is opposed to exporting uranium to a nation that has not signed the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Earlier in September, Leader of opposition Tony Abbott said the Labor party had made a "great mistake" in reversing the Howard government`s decision to sell uranium to India. However, the media report further quoted the Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson as saying that the federal government`s policy was clear. "We will only supply uranium to countries that are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have signed a bilateral agreement with Australia," he said.

"This is not a policy specific to India; it applies equally to all countries," he added. He said the policy would be debated at the party`s national conference in December.

Australian Uranium Association chief executive Michael Angwin said it was not the Premier`s role to determine which countries uranium could be exported to.