A consortium of countries spearheaded by the United States has just formed an international pact to explore new ways to promote the responsible growth of nuclear energy. According to Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, the initiative seeks to "highlight the value of nuclear energy as a clean, reliable energy source."
This new alliance was announced at a clean energy forum last week in Denmark. Other members of the pact include Argentina, Canada, Japan, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
My View: After the devastating destruction of Japan's Fukushima power plant in 2011, critics started writing the obituary for nuclear energy. In the years that followed, the industry was indeed battered and bruised. Amid mounting opposition, some nuclear plants went into early retirement, while new construction projects around the globe were postponed or scrapped.
A number of countries decided to gradually phase out nuclear energy altogether. Germany, for example, has reduced its dependency from 25% of the power grid (17 reactors) in 2011 to just 12% (seven reactors) today. Just look at a long-term chart of uranium prices, and it's easy to see the damage inflicted by changing government policies.
Yet, the industry is still standing. And if anything, the wounds are mending, not getting worse. Policy often gives way to pragmatism. Poland, for instance, wants to cut its reliance on Russian and oil and gas, and it has found nuclear power the best and most economical way to reach that goal.
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In the aftermath of Fukushima, France (a big nuclear proponent) decided to trim its nuclear power share from 75% to 50% by 2025. But after realizing there wasn't enough fossil fuels or renewable plants to make up the difference, the plan was quickly abandoned.
More recently, Japanese safety regulators have just granted unanimous approval for Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) to restart two reactors at the massive Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. This complex is the world's largest nuclear facility, with eight reactors that generate 8.2 million kilowatts of electricity -- enough to power 16 million homes.
It's highly encouraging to see this facility (which has been mothballed since 2011) re-open and start meeting Japan's growing energy needs.
And that brings us to the recent announcement. The new initiative not only endorses existing reactors but also ongoing investment to spur new technologies. That includes the development of hybrid nuclear-renewable systems, which utilize reliable nuclear sources to pick up the slack from solar or wind farms, whose output can be variable.
Nothing will change overnight -- nuclear energy projects require a long lead-time from drawing board to completion. Still, the market finds this vote of confidence from big energy consumers like the United States and Japan reassuring. From a long-term investment perspective, this is unmistakably bullish.
Action To Take: While controversial, nuclear energy is still a clean and efficient source of electricity that can't easily be replaced. This initiative is yet another sign that the sleeping industry is finally beginning to re-awaken.
There are company-specific wildcards for uranium giant Cameco (NYSE: CCJ), including a tax dispute with Canada's Internal Revenue Agency and the upcoming Tepco breach-of-contract arbitration hearing.
But there are 56 new nuclear power reactors currently under development around the globe (a third of them in China) with an appetite for uranium fuel. And Cameco remains a best-in-class option for investors seeking exposure. Once the issues above are resolved, it may be worth revisiting the stock.
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