The energy sector has been dominating the markets in the past few years. If you are looking for an alternative to the usual energy plays, a new ETF offers the opportunity to get exposure to the nuclear energy industry. Van Eck's Market Vectors Nuclear Energy ETF (AMEX: NLR ) came to market earlier this month.
NLR tracks the performance of the DAX Global Nuclear Energy Index, which has a 41% exposure in Japan, 29% in Canada, and nearly 14% in Australia. These allocations reflect not just where you'll find nuclear reactors but also where uranium and other key materials in their construction are found. As a result, even though France and the U.S. have many nuclear reactors, the index has no exposure to France and only about 3% in U.S. companies. On the other hand, Australia has only one nuclear reactor, which is more than 40 years old, but it has a key role in mining and producing uranium.
The index has its heaviest sector exposure to uranium mining at roughly 47%, while plant infrastructure is around 37% and nuclear equipment comes in at 10%. Its positions include various units of Japanese tech company Hitachi (NYSE: HIT ) , uranium producers Cameco (NYSE: CCJ ) and USEC (NYSE: USU ) , and the heavy industries unit of Mitsubishi Group.
The fund itself offers a reasonable way to invest in this index. It carries a 0.65% net expense ratio, which is a bit high for an index-tracking fund but is lower than many actively managed funds.
The U.S. hasn't seen a new nuclear power plant come online since 1997, and the last plant to be licensed was in 1978, but that doesn't mean the industry has gone away. France and Japan both have significant nuclear power programs, and countries like Iran assert their interest in getting in on the action for the same reason. Accidents at Three Mile Island in the U.S. and Chernobyl in the Soviet Union helped chill interest in nuclear power in the last part of the 20th century. Development was also slowed by low oil prices, political resistance, and increased regulation.
Now that energy has become expensive once again, nuclear energy is being touted as an alternative to oil. Two of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries, China and India, are both looking at nuclear energy to feed their fast-growing economies. Critics claim nuclear power is uneconomic and cite problems with storing radioactive waste and safety as serious concerns. Proponents argue that this is a power source that can help reduce carbon emissions and that the industry has a good safety record.
Global energy use continues to grow, and with massive demand from the newly industrializing economies of the BRICs, it seems likely that the energy industry will continue to seek alternatives to oil. The U.S. already gets 20% of its electricity from nuclear power, while the figure in France is closer to 75%. A narrowly focused fund like Van Eck's nuclear energy fund is one way to allocate a small portion of your portfolio to the nuclear slice of the energy sector. This might be a glowing opportunity.
Fool contributor Zoe Van Schyndel lives in Miami and enjoys the sunshine and variety of the Magic City. She does not own any of the funds mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.