Nuclear Dawn: Is the World Finally Ready for the Original Low-Carbon Energy Source?
Source: George Bell, Worth Magazine (5/21/08)
For investors, navigating the energy sector-particularly alternative sources-can be a tricky task. Green energy options include solar, wind, hydrogen fuel cells and, believe it or not, nuclear power. The inclusion of this last source comes as a surprise to many, because nuclear power, which is cheaper than natural gas or coal, draws negative mental imagery of radioactive waste and three-eyed fish. Can it truly be considered an environmentally sound energy producer?
But as investors open their wallets to clean tech, the analysis turns toward defining opportunities that are environmentally sound as well as potentially profitable. Wall Street has yet to get fully behind this, despite the environmental and geopolitical problems that the established energy sector faces.
For investors, too, navigating the energy sector-particularly alternative sources-can be a tricky task. Green energy options include solar, wind, hydrogen fuel cells and, believe it or not, nuclear power. The inclusion of this last source comes as a surprise to many, because nuclear power, which is cheaper than natural gas or coal, draws negative mental imagery of radioactive waste and three-eyed fish. Can it truly be considered an environmentally sound energy producer? Yes. Compared to traditional coal-fired plants that spew tons of carbon and other pollutants into the atmosphere, nuclear energy is a strikingly clean alternative. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the world shifted from viewing nuclear power as a threat to seeing it as a safe, bona fide carbon-free energy source, but it may have been on April 16, 2006, when Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore stated in the Washington Post, "My views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change."
Or the trigger may have been the undeniable proof that global warming is real. In February 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded from the work of 2,500 scientists in more than 130 countries that global warming "is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations."
Nuclear May Be The New Green Energy Source
Many skeptics may be surprised to learn that some progressive countries derive the bulk of their energy needs from nuclear power, with no problems whatsoever. Case in point: Of the electricity generated in France, 78 percent comes from nuclear power. The country now claims a substantial level of energy independence, and almost the lowest-cost electricity in Europe.
China and the U.S. also signal growing acceptance of nuclear power. In fact, reports estimate that China could double its nuclear power capacity within the next 12 years. The United States is eyeing its own new nuclear reactors, with an announcement in 2006 of two plants planned for Texas.
For investors, the global environmental backdrop and the acceptance of nuclear power as a green energy source mean opportunity. The activity among major players in the sector-which includes power generators, as well as uranium exploration and production companies-right now is leading to a "radioactive gold rush."
Uranium offers a particular area of interest for investment. Over the past three decades, apathy toward nuclear power resulted in the closure of uranium mines and the diminishment of processing capacity. But as green thinking, money and technological advances come back into the industry, we will begin to see a growing need for uranium sources, both existing and new.
The above points have given rise to a global scramble not only to find new uranium deposits, but also to bring the mines online. Many of the firms within the uranium exploration space are micro-cap and small-cap companies. And while these companies certainly embody risk for investors, those with credible land claims stand the chance of profitable ventures for investors-at attractive valuations.
As our energy needs grow along with the threat from global climate change, nuclear power has become an alluring solution to both investors and environmentalists. The hope is that the combination of the two will help drive important investment dollars to the industry in the near future. Let's hope Al Gore agrees.
George Bell is the president and CEO of UNOR, a Canadian mineral exploration firm. Reprinted with permission.