Japan, Australia working on bilateral nuclear energy deal

SYDNEY (Kyodo) Japan and Australia plan to strengthen bilateral cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear power, with Tokyo poised to secure a stable supply of uranium from the world’s biggest uranium reserves holder, Japanese sources said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart, John Howard, are planning to sign a document tentatively titled the “Australia-Japan Joint Statement for Enhanced Cooperation on Climate Change and Energy” when they meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit starting Saturday in Sydney, the sources said.

Australia is already the biggest uranium exporter to Japan, but Canberra is expanding its uranium export markets to fast-growing economies, including India and Russia. This has prompted Japan to ask Australia to continue to ensure a stable supply, they said.

Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors supply about 30 percent of the nation’s electricity.

For its part, Australia is believed to be seeking Japan’s support for building nuclear plants in the future. Australia currently has none.

“Japan has steadily promoted nuclear power generation and developed technology and experience in nuclear power. Australia has rich uranium resources,” said a source involved in the drafting of the document. “Bilateral cooperation in the field of the peaceful use of nuclear power leads to mutual benefits. The leaders from both sides will agree to strengthen cooperation in this area.”

Coal-fired power accounts for 85 percent of Australia’s electricity needs, making it the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas per capita.

Australia is considering building nuclear power plants as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet growing energy demand at home. Nuclear power emits no carbon dioxide when generating electricity.

The planned agreement between would follow the signing in April of a similar deal between Japan and Kazakhstan, which has the world’s second-largest uranium reserves.

Demand for uranium has been surging in recent years as an increasing number of countries start building, or plan to construct, nuclear power plants on the back of rises in oil prices.