Some pretty good news recently occurred for uranium miners. After three years of stalling, the Japanese government gave safety clearances to two of Japan's 48 idle reactors. The market took the safety clearances as an indication of more good things to come and sent uranium miners such as Cameco Corp and Denison Mines Corp rallying.
The 48 idle nuclear reactors have long been a contentious subject for Japan. Even though the Japanese economy could really use nuclear power as it would significantly lower Japan's import bill and improve Japan's overall economic competitiveness, the Japanese government has been hesitant in turning on any reactors because the Japanese public has been against nuclear energy. According to polls, about 53% of the Japanese public are against any nuclear reactors turned on.
Given that Japan is a democracy and that the Japanese public can vote out politicians in power, the government has been very tentative in its plans. This may be why the government only gave safety clearances to two nuclear reactors (rather than 16)-they're using the two reactors as a trial balloon to gauge of the severity of public opposition.
Even though the public is against nuclear energy in polls, if the Japanese public don't indicate that they will vote out the politicians who made the decision, the government will have more leeway to turn more reactors on. If the government turns on more reactors than expected, uranium demand will increase and uranium miners may continue to rally.
Because of this, Japanese public opinion on the two reactors is the most important metric in the uranium industry right now. It will basically decide how much extra demand there will be for uranium in the next two to three years.
As for whether the Japanese public will forgive and forget, there are historical precedents that this could happen.
The U.S. did, for example, turn on its reactors after the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in 1979. Today, the U.S. has 104 active nuclear reactors, powering roughly 19% of the U.S.'s total energy consumption.
Russia, too, has 33 nuclear reactors operating today even though the Soviet Union arguably experienced the worst nuclear disaster in human history in Chernobyl. Russia is, in fact, planning to aggressively adopt nuclear power to meet its future energy needs. The nation, which currently derives 11% of its total energy from nuclear, has a goal of deriving 25-30% of its energy needs from nuclear by 2030 and 45-50% of its energy needs from nuclear by 2050.
Since the American and Russian public forgave nuclear, the Japanese public may forgive nuclear as well. Time does heal all wounds and people do forget about the past.
The bottom line
Much like 2011, Japan is currently at the center of the uranium world. Because its 48 reactors could potentially account for 1/8th of total uranium demand, Japan's reactor demand could easily swing uranium prices significantly higher.
If Japanese public opinion isn't terribly against the two reactors, the Japanese government may activate more reactors than expected. This event, in turn, may increase uranium demand and send uranium miners higher.
Jay Yao has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.