Recent events to avert disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan have again awakened the debate over the merits and drawbacks of nuclear energy. Nuclear's efficiency in creating energy is unquestioned and it is a key reason for Japan has having an estimated 55 plants throughout the country. However, fears of a melt down at the Fukushima plant are the second major incident in less than four years to stem from an earthquake that hit Japan, and the concerns have called the safety of nuclear power into question. (For related reading, take a look at Top 5 Investment Trends For 2011.)
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Japan is scrambling to contain the release of further radioactive material into the environment. Efforts, largely being taken on by Tokyo Electric Power, are taking place to clean up material that has already been released into the environment. Below is a list of four companies that also deal with nuclear cleanup efforts given their extensive experience in building out and maintaining facilities in the nuclear power industry.
JGC Corporation is based in Japan and provides engineering and construction services for the nuclear power industry. Some of its operations were affected by the earthquake and there was damage to several facilities but no casualties. Its nuclear capabilities focus on Japan, where it has pointed out that nuclear power supplies 30% of the nation's total electricity needs. JGC helps the country design storage capabilities for spent fuel rods, treat radioactive waste, and design ways to improve treatment and disposal technologies. No specific mention has been given of JGC's efforts in the current Japanese cleanup efforts, but its technologies are already likely in use and it will play a bigger role in the country's nuclear power build out going forward.
Bechtel Corporation is one of the world's largest engineering firms and is also one of the largest private companies in the United States. It participates in large-scale projects, such as the building of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s and more generally in power plants, including nuclear power plants.
Its nuclear expertise gives it a leg up in knowing how to clean up accidents and more serious calamities, such as is occurring in Japan. One source estimated that Bechtel has led or participated in building out 40% of the nuclear capacity in the United States and 50% of the capacity in emerging markets, including China. Participation in cleanup efforts has occurred in Oak Ridge Tennessee, as well as in the United Kingdom.
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Shaw Group is a publicly-traded firm that works primarily in heavy construction projects having dealing with oil companies, regulated utilities, and nuclear power plants. It details that it was the primary construction firm for 17 nuclear power plant build outs in the United States and that it has worked on 95% of power plants in the U.S. It plans to be involved in the construction of four plants in China and also has capabilities to help older plants decommission as well as deal with decontamination should troubles surface as they have in Japan.
U.K.-based Amec is another engineering and construction firm that operates a sizable nuclear segment. Its expertise dates back to the birth of nuclear power nearly 60 years ago and, like Bechtel and Shaw Group, its services span building out large-scale nuclear power plants, refurbishment and decommissioning to clean-up and waste management of nuclear waste.
Amec operates in Europe, the U.S., South Africa, and Russia. A current project it started in 2005 is the refurbishment of the Bruce nuclear facility in Canada that has been shut down since 1998.
The Bottom Line
The above firms focus on more major activities including the initial construction of nuclear power plants and related maintenance but rise to the occasion when nuclear cleanup efforts are needed. When not in an emergency, they can handle more steady work such as the decommissioning of older nuclear power plants, but can be called on to handle cleanup efforts and other damage control that can occur at these facilities. The Japanese disaster is expected to result in cleanup efforts that add up to billions of dollars. Companies with the related cleanup expertise can profit handsomely and can help adversely affected regions with unfortunate but necessary clean-up efforts. (For related reading, also take a look at Spotlight On The Solar Industry.)
Disclosure: At the time of writing Ryan C. Fuhrmann did not own shares in any company mentioned in this article.