We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the Japanese earthquake, and the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that gripped the world.
Within days of the catastrophe, there were a number of stories about how the crisis probably killed the world’s nuclear renaissance.
A new nuclear reactor hasn’t come online in a long time, but prior to Fukushima, there was a lot of excitement about a new boom since A) Nuclear fuel is plentiful, B) It doesn’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
So it seemed likely that any development would be put on ice for a while.
Well, here we are, and today we get this news (via the AP):
The nation’s first new nuclear power plant in a generation is expected to win approval Thursday as federal regulators consider whether to grant a licence for two new reactors in Georgia.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to approve Atlanta-based Southern Co.’s request to build two nuclear reactors at its Vogtle site south of Augusta.
If approved, the $14 billion reactors could begin operating as soon as 2016 and 2017.
The NRC last approved construction of a nuclear plant in 1978, a year before a partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania raised fears of a radiation release and brought new reactor orders nearly to a halt.
Photo: Business Insider
There is a bombshell here: The world nuclear industry is returning to normal, less than one year later, as if Fukushima had never happened …On a recent trip to Vancouver, I had a chance to sit down and chat with Amir Adnani, the CEO of Uranium Energy Corp., a small listed uranium producer with operations in Texas.
Adnani explained to me that prior to Fukushima, there was a “perfect storm” for nuclear, as China alone wants to take its number of reactors from 11 to 100 by the year 2030.
When Fukushima hit, the stock instantly plunged. Uranium stocks became among the most wildly shorted names around.
Fears that the nuclear industry would be in deep trouble were exacerbated when Germany announced plans to shut down all of its reactors.
But according to Adnani, this event was misinterpreted. Germany had already decided to end its nuclear power program — all Germany did was speed up a previously announced plan. In terms of the countries that matter, nobody changed their mind on nuclear. China still has big development plans, and obviously the U.S. now does as well.
Talking to Adnani, I learned some more about the uranium business that surprised me.
There was a period when nobody thought that nuclear/uranium was a scary, dangerous business at all.
In 1958, Warren Smith came out with the awesome rockabilly hit Uranium Rock, a simple twist song about working in the uranium mine.
Things were rocking for the industry until a double-whammy for the industry in the late ’80s. First Chernobyl made everyone freaked out, and then the end of the cold war a few years later meant that there was no more need to stockpile uranium for weapons purposes.
Since then the price of uranium has been depressed, as Russia has been selling uranium that it had initially built up for weapons purposes to American nuclear plant operators as part of START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). However, according to Adnani, those sales are due to end soon.
The price of uranium aside, the big story in nuclear is that despite Fukushima, it’s been full steam ahead for the industry. The U.S. is back to approving them, and China continues to expand its program. The nuclear renaissance is ON.
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