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AUSTRALIA’S NUCLEAR COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA SHOULD BE TERMINATED

26 February 2022

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today called on the Australian Government to terminate Australia’s bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia.

“Australia’s bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia should never have been signed and ratified”, Senator Patrick said. "It's now an anachronism that undermines the credibility of our nuclear safeguards regime and it should be terminated without delay."   

“It is not appropriate to continue a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with a government that has abrogated numerous international treaties, violated the spirit and letter of the United Nations Charter and embarked on the largest scale military aggression in Europe since the Second World War.”  

“Negotiated and agreed by the Coalition Government of Prime Minister John Howard, the Australian-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement was justified by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as a measure that would ‘contribute to strengthening Australia’s bilateral ties with Russia’ and ‘further develop engagement between Russia and the international community in the important areas of non-proliferation, nuclear security and nuclear safety’."

“Those claimed justifications were accepted by the Labor Government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that rejected a highly critical report of the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which recommended against ratification, and proceeded to ratify the agreement which entered into force in 2010.”   

“Although Australian uranium sales to Russia were suspended in 2014 following Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, it makes no sense for Australia to continue to retain a nuclear cooperation agreement with a government that is engaged in blatant military aggression and has no regard for treaty commitments.  Whatever justification there might have been made for negotiating the agreement in 2007, and that's very questionable at best, circumstances have now fundamentally changed.”  

“Although Article XVIII of the nuclear cooperation agreement provides that it shall remain in force for 30 years, it is open for Australia to terminate the agreement in accordance with Article 62 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which provides that a state party to a treaty may terminate or withdraw from a treaty in the event of “a fundamental change of circumstances”.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in open defiance of international law, an attack that has included the military seizure of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant with consequent environmental risks, fundamentally calls into question whether the Russian Government can be relied upon to adhere to any international agreement if they considered it to their advantage not to do so.”

“This is a 'fundamental change in circumstances' and a matter of obvious concern in relation to the particularly sensitive field of nuclear cooperation.  It is highly questionable whether Australia could ever trust the current Russian Government to fulfil its obligations and allow appropriate and effective verification.”  

“Retaining Australia’s bilateral agreement with Russia further sends precisely the wrong signal about nuclear non-proliferation and arms control given the Russia President Putin’s preparedness to make thinly-veiled nuclear threats as part of his coercive diplomatic and military campaign.”

“Retaining this agreement directly undermines the credibility of Australia’s nuclear non-proliferation regime and it should be terminated without delay.”