You might think the answer is a no-brainer. But dig a little deeper and you might be as surprised as we were. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster this past March, many nuclear power stocks and uranium miners are still smarting.
- Before that trading day was over, most of the big uranium stocks and ETFs fell 20 percent on that day alone.
- The following Monday, a slew of other companies involved in nuclear plant construction and related activities saw their shares get hammered.
A nuclear power plant exploding before your eyes is a powerful vision. Many investors couldn’t get out of nuclear stocks fast enough.
Was the selling overdone? The answer is yes, but it’s a qualified yes. Let’s quickly review the nuclear power industry, putting Fukushima aside for a moment.
The Worldwide Nuclear Power Industry
There are about 440 nuclear power plants operating in 31 countries, worldwide. In total, these reactors produce about 376 Gigawatts (GW) of power.
The United States currently has 104 commercial operating nuclear reactors producing about 101 GW. As you can see from the EIA graph below, most were constructed between 1970 and 1990. The last one to come online was the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar 1 unit in 1996.
They collectively represent 10 percent of America’s generating capacity. But due to outages with other types of plants, they supplied 20 percent of all the electricity generated in the U.S. in 2010.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) grants initial 40-year operating licenses to nuclear plant operators. This license can be extended, after review and approval by the NRC. Over 60 percent of U.S. reactors have already received 20-year operating extensions.
In a survey last year by the Electric Power Research Institute, many nuclear plant operators intend to continue applying for plant extensions. Their intentions are to operate their plants for as long as 80 years from the original date of commissioning.
The bottom line is that the United States is still the largest consumer of uranium in the world. Only about 8 percent of its needs are met from domestic production, the rest being purchased from Russia’s missile decommissioning supply or on the open market.
In the wake of Fukushima, both Japan and Germany have indicated a future aversion to nuclear power. But that’s just two countries…
Increasing the Demand for Uranium and Nuclear Power
Russia, China, India, South Korea, and others are all pressing ahead with their nuclear plant construction plans. All told, there are currently over 60 new reactors under construction in 16 countries. Many more are in the planning stages.
The International Energy Agency estimates it’s possible that by 2015, a new nuclear plat could be started on the order of every five days. That’s not a typo.
This will greatly increase the demand for uranium, and it certainly bodes well for the big uranium mining companies with proven assets.
- Cameco Corporation (NYSE:CCJ) is certainly the biggest, and it’s off nearly 38 percent from its high reached this past February.
- Another great way to play the space is the Global X Uranium ETF (NYSE:URA). It tracks the Solactive Global Uranium Index, and holds about 25 different uranium-mining stocks. It’s currently trading about 44 percent off its highs reached back in February.
Is it time to get back in? The answer is yes, for the reasons mentioned above. It really doesn’t matter what Germany or Japan do. The U.S. is remaining in the game, and many more players will be coming online in the coming decade. Uranium demand will only be going up from here.