Earlier this month, Power Engineering magazine ran a piece titled "Tattered Renaissance," detailing the molasses-like pace of progress on the new nuclear construction front. This key line from the article really sums up the current quagmire:
"The economic downturn, low prices for natural gas, low forward power prices, steep capital costs and the slow pace of the loan guarantee awards have conspired to moderate the appetite for new nuclear power in many markets."
Other than that, things are perfect.
The Calvert Cliffs 3 project is one example of a project facing big challenges. Constellation Energy (NYSE: CEG) and its joint venture partner EDF landed a federal loan guarantee, only to see Constellation back out last month, claiming that the proposed terms are "unworkable."
NRG Energy's (NYSE: NRG) South Texas Project, owned in partnership with Toshiba (OTCPK:TOSBF), is viewed by analysts as something of an albatross around the power producer's neck. This project has yet to land a loan guarantee, and spending has slowed to a crawl. Fluor (NYSE: FLR), which landed the STP phase 1 subcontractor role back in 2007, said it had nothing baked into its backlog or 2011 guidance for the project on its last conference call.
This week, STP saw a significant shakeup, with Shaw Group (NYSE: SHAW) stepping in as the new EPC contractor, as part of a consortium with Toshiba. This marks part of a broader partnership between the two firms, in which Shaw will be the exclusive contractor for the Japanese nuclear giant's advanced boiling water reactor projects around the world, excluding Japan and Vietnam. The EPC win marks Shaw's largest award in its history.
Shaw's new partnership mirrors the one already struck with Toshiba-controlled Westinghouse, the designer of AP1000 reactors. This marks a major increase in the firm's potential global nuclear footprint, as Toshiba pursues construction contracts around the world.
The U.S. may be seeing little traction for new nuclear plants today, but there's plenty of activity abroad. I think the implications for Shaw's future book of business are more significant than this week's modest reaction in the share price would indicate. For that reason, I'm making an outperform call on the stock, which trades at a little over $32 at present.
Disclosure: No positions