More than two years after Fukushima, Cameco (NYSE:CCJ) is still feeling the effects of the nuclear disaster.
Germany and Switzerland have announced plans to gradually phase out nuclear due to concerns that a similar event could occur.
Despite exhaustive safety studies, 48 of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors are still idle. Those 48 nuclear reactors accounted for approximately 20 million pounds of the 177 million pounds of global uranium demand annually.
Cameco stock itself has been flat while the S&P 500 is up over 30% year to date.
Reasons to be more optimistic
There is still reason to have hope, however. One positive upcoming catalyst is the end of the Megatons to Megawatts program this December.
The Megatons to Megawatts program converts Russian nuclear warheads to uranium fuel. Over the past 15 years, it has produced 24 million pounds of uranium annually and powered nearly 50% of America's nuclear energy needs.
While Megatons to Megawatts may be renewed, it is highly unlikely. Russia no longer needs hard currency as it did in 1998. Because of its substantial crude oil and natural gas exports, Russia has a much better current account balance.
Another reason to be optimistic is that Japan will eventually restart those 48 idle nuclear reactors. Japan is reportedly spending around $100 million per day in natural gas and crude oil imports, and the extra costs have caused a severe drag in the country's economy. Japan has already restarted two reactors in the summer of 2012, and is rumored to start 25 more in the coming year.
Another reason to be optimistic is that the U.K. just gave the go ahead to build its own nuclear reactor in 20 years. The Hinkley Point C reactor is the first new nuclear plant to be approved since Fukishima and a sign that nuclear energy still has a spot in the global energy portfolio.
The bottom line
In my opinion, Cameco is the best uranium miner in the sector. The Canadian company has a strong balance sheet and a low cost of production, at $26.19 per pound, compared to smaller peers such as Denison Mines (NYSEMKT:DNN).
The eventual completion of the Cigar Lake mine should help lower Cameco's production cost even further with an estimated production cash cost of only $18.60 per pound for the mine.
That strong balance sheet and low cost of production should help Cameco survive the troughs in the highly cyclical uranium market that other smaller miners may not overcome.
Another solid investment is the diversified materials giant BHP Billton (NYSE:BHP). BHP Billton mines copper, iron ore, uranium, and coal. As China rebounds, those commodities should see a significant increase in demand. The company is trading at a fairly cheap forward P/E of 13.5 and pays its investors a 3.36% dividend.
The uranium sector has suffered greatly due to Fukushima. The headline risk associated with nuclear reactors has caused a 'nuclear winter' for miners. With the eventual restart of 48 Japanese nuclear reactors and the end of Megatons to Megawatts program, however, the future looks bright.