Australian uranium exports to China could begin early next year, with Australia expected to capture about one third of the growing Chinese uranium market, a government official said on Monday.
John Carlson, director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, said government-to-government agreements to allow the export of Australian uranium to China should be ratified by the end of this year.
He said no commercial contracts had yet been signed between Australian miners and Chinese nuclear generators. "In principle, we could have uranium going to China in the first half of next year," Carlson told a government committee that is investigating the trade agreements.
Carlson said he expected China would diversify its suppliers so that it would not become too dependent on a single country. But Australia, which has 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves, could expect to be supplying a third of the 8,000 tons of uranium a year that Beijing expects to be using to fuel its nuclear power generation by 2020, he said.
At current spot prices, that would be worth to Australia 250 million Australian dollars (US$192 million; euro150 million) a year, he said.
"It would be a reasonable objective for Australia to secure around a third of the Chinese market," Carlson said. "In excess of 2,500 tons of uranium a year, that would be a reasonable expectation for us to be exporting to China," he added. Carlson said he was confident the trade agreements would meet Australia's conditions that Australian uranium would only be used for power generation and would not be put to any military use.