Australia, Russia Sign Uranium Sale Agreement

Australia and Russia signed a nuclear safeguards agreement on Friday to allow the export of Australian uranium to Russia for use in its civilian nuclear power programme.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Australian Prime Minister John Howard confirmed the signing after a meeting in Howard's Sydney office ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum leaders' summit at the weekend.

The deal has raised concerns in Australia that the uranium might be used for military purposes or resold to Iran and Syria, states with which Russia has close ties.

However, Howard told a joint press briefing that he did not believe Australian uranium would be put to military use.

"This new agreement completely updated arrangements for nuclear safeguards for our country," Howard said.

Article 7 of the agreement says: "Nuclear materials, equipment and components which fall under this agreement are used only for peaceful purposes and will not be used to produce nuclear weapons or any other nuclear explosive devices, for research and development of nuclear weapons ... or for any other military purpose."

The agreement also says Australian nuclear materials can not be exported beyond Russia without prior written consent.

The deal was formally signed by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and the head of Russia's Federal Nuclear Agency Sergy Kiriyenko.

Howard said earlier this week that Russia would have to ensure there was no possibility Australian uranium could be resold to Iran or Syria for the deal to go through.

Australia has about 40% of the world's reserves of uranium ore and exports the mineral to 36 nations.