Deal Advances Development of a Smaller Nuclear Reactor
Comment of the Day

February 22 2013

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Deal Advances Development of a Smaller Nuclear Reactor

Thanks to a subscriber for this interesting article by Matthew Wald for the New York Times which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section
The reactor is intended as a direct challenge to natural gas generators, and it is intended to share two characteristics that make gas attractive.

First, the builders say they can be built quickly and be added onto later, so there is less risk of building too much capacity or running short. Second, they are meant to do something that is difficult for existing nuclear plants but easy for gas: change power output rapidly.

Grid operators are increasingly challenged by having to integrate large amounts of power from wind farms and solar installations, which can experience surges or drops in output. Planners are looking for supply partners for those variable generators.

B&W will prepare an application to build four reactors, and the plan is to build two at the site once planned for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. Licensing can be completed under existing Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules, according to Mr. Mowry, who spoke at a Platts Nuclear Energy conference in Washington.

He said his company wanted to have the first of two units in service at Oak Ridge by 2022, an aggressive schedule that he said was “eight years and change.”

Eoin Treacy's view The nuclear industry faces multiple challenges. Public perceptions have been deteriorating in the West for decades as issues with the storage and reprocessing of waste and the potential for accidents gained wider attention. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster sentiment reached a new low and governments felt they needed to be seen to be acting in the public good by closing reactors.

However, the great benefit of nuclear is that it supplies abundant, affordable energy and can ensure base load for utilities. In an environment where renewable alternatives fail the basic reliability test, the requirement for an adaptable source of electricity that can pick up the slack when needed is incontrovertible.

Germany has been building coal fired stations in order to fulfill this need. The USA has so far focused on dual fuel coal/natural gas power stations which allow utilities to benefit from the arbitrage in commodity prices. From an energy diversity and security perspective there is a compelling argument for developing nuclear reactors and related technology.

The pinch for investors is that the 2011 disaster set the nuclear industry back by years. Investment in uranium production in the last decade has ensured that the supply of the commodity is ample for today's demand environment and related mining shares remain in lengthy bases.

Demand will need to increase if the medium-term bullish story is to be credible. In order for this to happen, older reactors will need to be reconditioned and new ones built. The advent of an alternative fuel source in thorium represents an additional challenge for the mining sector. With these issues in mind the performance of nuclear facility builders should offer a lead indicator, possibly by years, for a resurgence in the mining sector.

Babcock & Wilcox, mentioned in the above article, is not normally associated with the nuclear industry. The share has been ranging with a mild upward bias since early 2012. A sustained move below $25 would be required to question medium-term scope for a successful upward break.

Atkins broke out of a three-year range at the beginning of the month and a sustained move below $600 would be required to question medium-term scope for additional upside.

Shaw Group was acquired by Chicago Bridge & Iron this month. The latter has rallied impressively over the last few months and is now susceptible to mean reversion.

Toshiba Plant Systems, JGC Corp, Idemitsu Kosan and Korea Electric Power all pulled back sharply in the last few weeks but have found at least short-term support in the region of their respective 200-day MAs. Provided they hold their recent lows, the benefit of the doubt can continue to be given to recovery potential.

Although China is where demand growth for nuclear reactors is expected to be strongest, its nuclear reactor construction sector is underperforming both the global sector and the domestic stock market. Harbin Power Equipment is representative.

The performance of the above shares is supportive of tentative optimism with regard to the nuclear industry and this should eventually begin to be reflected in the performance of uranium mining shares.

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