Australia says ready to approve uranium sales to Ukraine

Australia is set to approve sales of uranium to Ukraine under an agreement to be signed ahead of a nuclear security summit led by US President Barack Obama later this week.

Australia has no nuclear industry of its own, but supplies about a tenth of the world's uranium and has been steadily increasing the number of countries cleared to buy it for peaceful purposes.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in a statement said the uranium sold to Ukraine would be used for nuclear power generation. "At the summit I will join world leaders in urging the international community to maintain strong co-operation on nuclear security," Bishop said.

"I will also discuss new opportunities to counter the ever-present threat of terrorists acquiring nuclear material or sabotaging nuclear facilities." Australia has already cleared the way to sell uranium for peaceful means to a number of countries, including Canada, China, France, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Britain and the United States.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors generating about half of its electricity.

Russia's Tass news agency said on Tuesday that Russia's International Uranium Enrichment Centre plans to conclude a contract with Ukrainian partners for the supply of uranium ore from Ukraine to Russia, quoting IUEC Commercial Director Gleb Efremov.

Ukraine sends its uranium to Russia for enrichment and the subsequent production of nuclear fuel for its nuclear power plants. This is despite political upheaval since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula two years ago.

According to the Joint Report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ukraine is on track to nearly double its nuclear generating capacity by 2035.

Australia holds almost a third of the world's known uranium deposits. "Access to growing Ukrainian uranium demand creates opportunities for more tonnes, more exports, and more jobs in mine construction and operations," the Minerals Council of Australia said.

Obama will host the summit on Thursday (March 31) and Friday with 56 delegations in attendance.