Govt Holds Its Line On Iran And Uranium
Wednesday, Feb 04, 2009
Namibia will not heed calls by individual countries on supplying uranium to Iran.
Prime Minister Nahas Angula says Namibia's position on uranium supply is guided by international agreements, which it has to honour, and is not shaped by calls from individual nations. A number of countries - including the United States, Britain, Germany and France - believe that Iran is running out of raw uranium, and have started with intensive diplomatic campaigns to dissuade major uranium producers, including Namibia, from selling to Iran. They accuse the Middle Eastern nation of trying to acquire nuclear weapons under the pretext of a civilian nuclear energy programme, which Iran has denied repeatedly. It maintains it only wants nuclear power to generate electricity.
Angula yesterday told The Namibian that "unless an international agreement, such as with the United Nations Security Council, calls for countries not to supply to Iran, the Namibian Government treats Iran as any other country". ROSSING SAYS IT iS 'SAFE' But Iran isn't just any other country. The government of Iran has a 15 per cent shareholding in Rössing Uranium Limited, which last year supplied about 7,6 per cent of the world's mined uranium. Rössing says it does not currently supply Iran with uranium, nor would it do so if approached by Iran. "The government of Iran became a shareholder at the time when the mine started in the early 1970s, (but) Rössing's shareholders do not have any product take-off rights," says Jerome Mutumba, Rössing's Manager for External Affairs. Mutumba said Rössing Uranium was not in a position to comment on the accusations made against Iran by Western nations, or on their call to uranium-producing nations not to supply Iran with uranium.
"Rössing is a safe, significant and growing long-term supplier of uranium to the world nuclear power industry. The Government of Namibia is a signatory to the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which stipulates that uranium is sold only to fellow NPT countries, and that the uranium is used for peaceful purposes," Mutumba said. Iran is also a signatory to the NPT, but has in the past been found non-compliant with the NPT's safeguards agreement.
In 2006, it embarked on a uranium enrichment programme, defining it as part of its civilian nuclear energy programme, which is permitted under Article IV of the NPT. Inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been unable to verify whether Iran has a secret plan for nuclear weapon development, as relations between the IAEA and Iran have been severed, with Iran having refused to provide any support for the IAEA's investigation on the nature of Iran's nuclear plans. In addition to supplying only to NPT signatories, Mutumba said Rössing's sales agreements also have to be approved by the Government of Namibia. He could not disclose new supply deals signed by Rössing. "In line with a very competitive uranium market, sales contracts between Rössing Uranium and its customers have confidentiality clauses, and thus cannot be revealed without permission from the customer," he said.
But Angula said that while he is unaware of Iran having approached Namibia for uranium, "Rössing is under pressure from its clients, such as the US, not to supply Iran" - an awkward feat given Iran's shareholding, and Namibia's supply of uranium on a "commercial basis", and not directly by Government. The call of the Western nations comes with the belief that Iran is running out of raw uranium for its nuclear programme, with stockpiles expected to be depleted within months. "It's essential to dissuade Iran from progressing towards the technology for a nuclear bomb. This risks sparking off a regional nuclear arms race. In a region which already faces huge security and other challenges, nuclear proliferation would be disastrous for stability," a spokesperson from Britain's Foreign Office has been quoted as saying. Namibia is listed as one of the top 10 uranium producing nations, with Rössing Uranium Limited in 2008 producing 7,6 per cent of the world's uranium supply.