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Agreements Signed for Australia to Sell Uranium to China

China and Australia have signed two agreements that open the way for Australia to supply uranium to China's growing nuclear energy industry.

The agreements put in place strict safeguards to ensure that Australian uranium supplied to China will be used only to generate electricity, and not for China's decades-old nuclear weapons program.

Australian officials say the exports to China will not start for at least two years, because Australia's total production is committed until at least 2008.

In a ceremony in Canberra Monday, visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao assured his hosts that his country would use the uranium only for peaceful purposes.

Mr. Wen says China is a responsible nation, a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). He says China will surely observe the provisions and regulations laid out by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Australia has 40 percent of the world's uranium deposits, but it sells the radioactive mineral only to nations that have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The new agreements open the way for Australian miners to supply China with billions of dollars worth of uranium to fuel its increasing number of nuclear power plants.

Some Australian environmental groups opposed the deal, saying that China could divert the uranium to build nuclear weapons.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said China's weapons program would go ahead with or without Australian uranium, and said he is confident that the safeguards will be enforced. He also paid tribute to Canberra's strengthening relations with Beijing.

"Of all the major relationships that Australia has with other countries, none has been more completely transformed than our relationship with China over the last 10 years," Mr. Howard says.

Trade with China has quadrupled in the last decade and it has become a major market for Australian minerals. The two countries agreed Monday to step up negotiations on a free trade agreement.