MEDIA RELEASE

DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE
AUSTRALIA

D54

1 June 1998

AUSTRALIA-EURATOM
NUCLEAR SAFEGUARDS: PLUTONIUM RETRANSFERS

Australia and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) exchanged diplomatic notes in Canberra on 28 May 1998 as the first step towards bringing into force an Agreement under which Australia will - subject to certain conditions - broaden its consent for the return from the European Union to Japan of Australian obligated plutonium following the reprocessing of Japanese spent fuel in Europe. The European Union is an important provider of nuclear fuel cycle services for countries purchasing Australian uranium and Japan is a major market for Australian uranium exports.

The new Agreement will represent a further refinement of Australia's advance consent to plutonium retransfers under the 1981 Australia-Euratom Agreement concerning Transfers of Nuclear Material. In September 1993, Australia gave Euratom its consent for the retransfer from the European Union to Japan of plutonium bearing both Australian and United States safeguards obligations; the latter obligation acquired as a result of Australian nuclear material undergoing processing at some stage of the fuel cycle in the United States Under the new treaty-level Agreement Australia will give consent for the retransfer from the European Union to Japan of the small proportion of Australian obligated plutonium which does not also carry a United States safeguards obligation and is thus not covered by the 1993 agreement.

The refinement of prior consent rights under the Australia-Euratom Agreement is seen as desirable by both Euratom and Japan, and is consistent with the practice of their other major uranium suppliers; Canada and the United States. The Agreement is consistent with Australia's non-proliferation and security objectives. Plutonium covered by the Agreement will continue to be accounted for by the Australian Safeguards Office.

The Agreement stipulates that retransfers of Australian obligated plutonium can only take place if it is transported with plutonium which is subject to the United States-Japan Agreement on nuclear cooperation - i.e. which also carries a United States safeguards obligation - and is thereby subject to the stringent and very detailed security arrangements for the transport of plutonium which the United States requires of Japan. The Agreement also provides for direct assurances from Euratom to Australia concerning the security arrangements being applied to transfers involving Australian obligated plutonium. Any retransfers of Australian obligated plutonium not conforming to the agreed conditions would continue to require case-by-case consideration by Australia.

In accordance with Australia's treaty-making procedures, the exchanged diplomatic notes constituting the Agreement will be tabled in Parliament for fifteen sitting days and considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. The Agreement will enter into force when Australia notifies the Delegation to the European Commission that all domestic requirements necessary to give effect to the Agreement have been satisfied.

For further information: 

Tony Melville 02 6261 1555