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Uranium stocks got hammered in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
But now uranium mining stocks have finally begun to bounce back… just like we told you they would.
After getting pummeled last year, shares of Cameco Corp. (NYSE: CCJ) – the world's second-largest uranium miner – are up 32%.
Meanwhile, smaller American competitors Uranium Resources Inc. (Nasdaq: URRE) and Uranium Energy Corp. (AMEX: UEC) are each up about 30%. And the Global X Uranium ETF (NYSE: URA) is up 25%.
But that's just the beginning.
These stocks are still about 50% below where they traded prior to Japan's disaster.
And rising demand for nuclear energy and a dearth of uranium supplies will soon conspire to push these companies back to their pre-Fukushima levels.
You see, uranium is too cheap. Current prices are so low that uranium miners can't turn a profit. And they're closing up shop – shutting down their expensive operations – until prices improve.
And that means a major shortfall in the uranium market is coming.
About 170 million pounds of uranium was consumed last year, but only 140 million pounds was produced. That's 30-million pounds of uranium that had to be made up by global stockpiles, which are quickly disappearing.
And when you look at the way nuclear power projects are coming back online, it's obvious that the gap between production and demand will only get more extreme in coming months.
A Nuclear Renaissance
Global use of nuclear energy could increase by as much as 100% in the next two decades, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In spite of the Fukushima disaster, the number of planned nuclear plants in the past year rose from 156 to 163. In fact, globally, the number of nuclear reactors is still on track to swell from 434 today to 820 by 2030. That's an 89% increase in reactors worldwide. And of those new reactors, 96 are set to come online by 2021.
China will be the driving force behind this growth. China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, thanks to a battery of carbon-dioxide-spewing coal-fired power plants.
Indeed, coal supplies 80% of China's power. And the fact is, windmills and solar panels don't have enough juice to power a country that's home to more than 1 billion people and an economy with the largest industrial output in the world.
China consumes more than 4.6 trillion kilowatts of electricity each year. And the country is still expanding its electrical grid outside of major cities.
That makes nuclear power the country's best option.
China is on track to build up to 100 nuclear reactors (and add another 39 million pounds of uranium demand to the market) by 2030.
Twenty-seven of those plants are already under construction, and an official recently told the China Daily that plans for "about 10" plants put on hold last year would soon be green-lit for construction.
China isn't alone, either.
Global Nuclear Growth
Countries around the world are putting their nuclear power programs back on track.
India has announced plans to grow its nuclear power capacity exponentially from 5,000 megawatts to 63,000 megawatts by 2030. And even smaller countries in Europe, such as Poland, France, and Great Britain are pushing ahead – much to the consternation of some of their neighbors.
In fact, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy last month signed a joint declaration of cooperation on nuclear power. France already gets 75% of its power from nuclear plants.
And while other countries like Germany have decided to purge themselves of nuclear power, their boycott will have only a limited effect.
The IAEA says that an accelerated phase-out of nuclear power in Germany, a government review of the planned expansion in Japan, and temporary delays elsewhere in the world will result in only a 7-8% drop in projected demand growth for 2030.
And that demand growth is about to tip even higher.
In the United States, the bulk of the uranium used in reactors doesn't come from uranium mining. It comes from the approximately 20,000 decommissioned Russian nuclear warheads. The uranium from these nuclear weapons is enriched and sold to the U.S. as part of a 1987 disarmament agreement called "Megatons to Megawatts".
The program has helped make the United States the world's largest producer of nuclear power.
But Russia is running out of nuclear warheads to convert, spelling the end of guaranteed access to uranium supplies for U.S. nuclear reactors. When the warheads dry up, America's nuclear power plants will suddenly be in the market for an additional 43 million pounds of uranium each year.
Meanwhile, global usage of nuclear energy will rise 35%-100% by then.
That's good news for the long-term prices of both uranium and uranium mining stocks.
How You Can Profit
"Fukushima or no Fukushima, the world energy situation remains unchanged," Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel told the Canadian Press. "Huge quantities of huge, reliable and affordable electricity will be needed to meet future demand."
Since the 1980s, global electricity consumption has tripled and is expected to more than double again over the next two decades. Nearly two billion out of the world's seven billion inhabitants don't currently have access to electricity, Gitzel said.
"More reactors means more demand for uranium," he said.
Cameco intends to double its uranium production by 2018. And earlier this month the company agreed to buy AREVA SA's 27.94% stake in the Millennium project – a uranium mine in Canada's Athabasca Basin. That will increase Cameco's interest in the mine to 69.9%.
Cameco stock traded in the low-$40s prior to Fukushima and the mid-$50s when uranium prices peaked in 2007. So at its current level, it's a bargain.
Another uranium miner trading at a steep discount is Uranium Energy Corp. Like Cameco, UEC is still 50% below its pre-Fukushima level, even after an impressive surge this year.
UEC is the first company to start a new uranium mine in the United States in nearly six years. The Corpus Christi-based UEC aims to reach an initial production rate of 1 million pounds per year. Its processing plant in South Texas has the capacity to process up to three times that amount, which could nearly double current U.S. production.
Incidentally, U.S. regulators just approved the first new nuclear power station in more than 30 years – just as 15%-20% of the U.S. oil supply chain is being threatened by political disruption.
Nuclear plants already produce about 20% of U.S. energy. In terms of uranium consumed by utilities, that translates into 55 million pounds of uranium per year. Currently, however, uranium mining in the U.S. only provides about 3.5-4 million pounds per year.
Both UEC and the Saskatoon-based Cameco will be prime beneficiaries of a nuclear revival. They're also major holdings in the Global X Uranium ETF, which is another smart way to play the uranium surge.