Energy Companies Benefit As Regulators Set Positive Tone For Existing U.S. Nuclear Power

Includes: D, DUK, ETR, EXC, SCG
by: Roger S. Conrad

Japan appears to have joined Germany, Italy and Switzerland as nations swearing off nuclear power. But on Aug. 9, 2011, the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ruled Toshiba Corp. (OTCPK:TOSBF) and its Westinghouse’s AP1000 design is safe. That sets the stage for a final vote by the end of the year on licensing for the new nuclear plants proposed by Southern Company and SCANA Corp (NYSE:SCG).

If the NRC approves, as expected, construction on the two Vogtle and two Summer plant units will begin next year, with at least one reactor entering service by 2016. Both companies have been successful recovering in rate base the costs incurred thus far. And favorable regulatory relations in Georgia and South Carolina, respectively, mean they’re likely to going forward, pushing earnings (and dividends) higher year after year.

Once these final licenses are official, I expect to see Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) and Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) to push ahead with new nuke applications in Virginia and North Carolina, respectively. That will be favorable for their earnings, as their state regulatory climates remain positive as well.

That’s about as far as any U.S. nuclear renaissance is likely to go in the near future, and as Exelon (NYSE:EXC) CEO John Rowe stated in his August 15, 2011, speech to a group of nuclear power plant workers, “the business of new nuclear will be miserably hard and extremely challenged by economics." Find out more about John Rowe’s candid speech and the four conditions he believes must be met for a U.S. nuclear renaissance to occur, in Jim Fink’s article, John Rowe's Last Speech on Nuclear Power: Bright Future By Necessity.

The good news: Existing plants continue to win license extensions, with Entergy Corp.’s (NYSE:ETR) Pilgrim in Massachusetts likely next. The costs of upgrading nukes to a higher safety standard for earthquakes are not expected to be much less than what was spent in anti-terror measures after Sept. 11, 2001. And a generation of 50-year-old coal plants is getting ready to close, tightening up power supplies. That’s a good reason to stay bullish on now out-of-favor nuclear companies.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.