The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties – also referred to as the Treaties Committee – is appointed by parliament to review and report on all treaty actions proposed by the Australian government before it takes any action which binds the country to the terms of the treaty. The committee's review of the cooperation agreement with Ukraine, signed in Washington DC in March last year, included a public hearing held in November, where it heard from government departments as well as environmentalists and the minerals industry, WNN wrote.

Australia requires a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement to be in place before any of its nuclear materials can be used in another country. Such agreements contain guidance to prevent Australian nuclear materials being used for nuclear weapons or other military uses. Australian bilaterals are supplementary to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and provide even more stringent safeguards and security standards.

The committee found the agreement with Ukraine would have a number of benefits for Australia, including opening an important additional market for its uranium producers; reinforcing close bilateral relations with Ukraine; supporting efforts in nuclear non-proliferation by applying its safeguards and security standards to another uranium market; and consolidating its position as a reliable supplier of energy resources.

Read alsoUkraine to launch nuclear fuel production for own reactors in 2020However, the committee received submissions raising concerns about potential limitations of the safeguards regime, the risk of war or civil unrest, and the ability to repatriate material should it become necessary. The agreement contains a clause standard to all Australian nuclear cooperation agreements should Ukraine breach its obligations. This gives Australia the right to suspend or cancel supplies, require Ukraine to take corrective steps, or require the return of nuclear material already supplied.

Committee chair Stuart Robert said today Ukraine is reliant on nuclear power for electricity generation, and the agreement is "an important contribution" Australia could make to Ukraine's energy security and stability. "Though the agreement incorporates provisions to ensure nuclear material is being used for peaceful purposes, the committee is concerned about the impact of recent instability in Ukraine and the risk that regulatory control of the material may be lost," he said.

While supporting the agreement, the committee's report recommends the government develop a "suitable contingency plan" for the removal of nuclear material if this is at risk of a loss of regulatory control, Robert said.

According to the committee's report, Australia has 24 nuclear cooperation agreements in place providing for the transfer of its nuclear material to 42 countries and Taiwan. This includes the countries covered by Australia's bilateral agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).