By Daniel James Hayden IV
Chubu Electric Power Co. (OTC:CHUEF) announced on Monday in Japan that it had agreed to a request from the Japanese government to shut down the company's Hamaoka nuclear power plant.
The shutdown comes in response to Prime Minister Naoto Kan's request to halt power generating operations at Hamaoka's three nuclear reactors, following a government evaluation of the country's nuclear power plants.
The evaluation was conducted so that in the event of natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of northeast Japan on March 11, Japan would be less likely to suffer nuclear incidents like those that have plagued the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant since the disaster in March.
One of the main reasons behind the shutdown is that the Hamaoka nuclear power plant is located about 125 miles west of Tokyo in an area that is likely to be hit by magnitude 8.0 or higher earthquake within the next 30 years.
Like the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, the Hamaoka plant is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters because it is located on the coast.
Chubu Electric Power Co. plans to add a 40 foot tall sea wall, strengthen the Hamaoka plant's buildings and add more backup generators, but the improvements could take years to finish and cost the company dearly in lost revenue.
The announcement of the shutdown comes on the same day that electricity wholesaler Japan Atomic Power announced that there was a small radiation leak at the company's Tsuruga nuclear power plant located in western Japan.
Japan Atomic Power said that the leak was well within legal and safety limits but that's of little comfort to Japanese that are growing weary of the myriad of issues facing the country's nuclear power industry.
There is growing concern that Japan's ongoing problems within its nuclear power industry may hamper the efforts of companies like Toyota Motor Corporation (NYSE:TM), Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE) and Honda Motor Company (NYSE:HMC) to return to their pre-disaster production levels.
These major exporters and others like them have faced difficulties recovering due to reduced power supplies, damaged infrastructure and problems obtaining spare parts.
The Nikkei 225 index of Japanese stocks was down 64.82 points, or 0.66%, at 9,794.38 by the end of Monday's trading session in Japan on renewed worries that reduced power supply would inhibit Japan's economic recovery from the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country on March 11.
The ProShares UltraShort MSCI Japan ETF (NYSEARCA:EWV) is an invest option for those who feel that the continuous stream of bad news coming from Japan's nuclear power industry is a sign that Japan will be unable to solve its energy problems any time soon.
However, there are a number of investments that may prosper under such a scenario.
Solar companies like Hanwha SolarOne Co., Ltd. (HSOL), Trina Solar Limited (NYSE:TSL) and LDK Solar Co. Inc. (NYSE:LDK) could benefit from any move away from nuclear power to cleaner alternative power sources. The consensus price targets of analysts show that each one of these stocks has significant upside potential.
The Market Vectors Global Alternative Energy ETF (NYSEARCA:GEX) invests in a broad range of alternative energy companies, so it's a better choice for investors who want exposure to the alternative energy sector but also value diversification. This ETF could be a long term winner if consumers and governments continue to be put off by the dangers associated with nuclear power.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.