Source: The Crux
By Marin Katusa, Chief Energy Investment Strategist, Casey Research:
In the wake of one singular event—the disaster at Fukushima in March 2011, the effects of which are still being felt today across the planet—nuclear power has seemingly fallen into utter disrepute, at least in the popular mind. But this is largely an illusion.
It’s true that Japan took all 52 of its nuclear plants offline after Fukushima and sold much of its uranium inventory. South Korea followed with shutdowns of its own. Germany permanently mothballed eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022. Austria and Spain have enacted laws to cease construction on new nuclear power stations. Switzerland is phasing them out. A majority of the other European nations is also opposed.
All of this has resulted in a large decrease in demand for uranium, a glut of the fuel on the market, and a per-pound price that fell as low as $28.50 in mid-2014, down nearly 80% from its peak of $135 in 2007. Currently, it’s languishing around $39 per pound, still below the cost of production for many miners—about 80% need prices above $40 to make any return on investment, and even at that level, no new mines will be built. It’s easy to hear a death knell for nuclear energy on the breeze. And that may well be the case for Europe (except for France). But Europe is hardly the world.
South Korean plants are back online. Japan is planning to restart its reactor fleet (despite a great deal of citizen protest) beginning in 2015. Russia is heavily invested, with nine plants under construction and 14 others planned. China, faced with unhealthy levels of air pollution in many of its cities due to coal power generation, is going all in on nuclear. 26 reactors are under construction, and the government has declared a goal of quadrupling present capacity—either in operation or being built—by 2020. India has 20 plants and is adding seven more. And in the rest of the developing nations, nuclear power is exploding.
Worldwide, no fewer than 71 new plants are under construction in more than a dozen countries, with another 163 planned and 329 proposed. Many countries without nuclear power soon will build their first reactors, including Turkey, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and several of the Gulf emirates.
For years, China, with its stunning GDP growth rate, has been seen as the leading destination for natural resources. “Produce what China needs” has been every supplier’s ongoing mantra. Yet, as many Americans fail to realize, it’s their own home that is the biggest uranium consumer. Despite having not opened a new plant since 1977 (though six additional units are scheduled to open by 2020), the US is the world’s #1 producer of nuclear energy, accounting for more than 30% of the global total. France is a distant second at 12%; China, playing catchup, sits at only 6% right now. The 65 American nuclear plants, housing just over 100 reactors, generate 20% of total US electricity.
Yet uranium is the one fuel for which there is very little domestic supply.
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