After many years of stagnation, the nuclear power industry is showing signs of life due to higher prices for competing forms of energy, increased concern over the impact that fossil fuels have on the environment and new safer design technologies. These new designs might assuage concern that many have over the safety of this power source.
Nuclear power has many advantages over other forms of energy. It produces zero carbon emissions, and despite well-publicized accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, it is relatively safe.

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New Nuclear Developments
Several utilities have filed Combined Construction and Operating Licenses (COL) applications to construct new nuclear power generation facilities. Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN), a large utility headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., filed for one for a greenfield facility in Florida.

Safer Design
Shaw Group
(NYSE:SHAW) is heavily involved in the nuclear power industry. The company is working with a new safer design called the AP1000. The AP1000 uses 50% less valves, and 80% less pipe than competing designs. The design also uses only one-fifth the amount of concrete and rebar as competing designs. This reduces both capital costs and maintenance costs for the owners.

Shaw also does maintenance work on existing reactors that are already built. The company recently signed a contract with Ameren Corporation (NYSE: AEE) to provide maintenance services at its nuclear plant in Fulton, MO. Shaw is a leader and provides some type of maintenance services to 40 of the 102 plants in the U.S.

Pure Plays
Investors might one day have a pure play nuclear power company to trade. Entergy (NYSE:ETR) is the second largest producer of nuclear power in the U.S., and is planning on spinning off its non-utility nuclear assets into an entity called Enexus. These assets include six units generating 5000 megawatts of power, and one managed plant generating 800 megawatts. The spinoff process is now bogged down in obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals from the states where the plants are located.

China is ahead of many of the other emerging economies on using this power source to reduce its insatiable demand for oil and other fossil fuels. China has four new nuclear plants under construction with the first coming on line in 2013.

Bottom Line
Nuclear power holds the hope of reducing the world's dependence on dirty fossil fuels for providing energy. Although popular culture is haunted by the supposed danger of this power source, the country must come to the realization that we must choose between the lesser of many evils when providing power for the future. (For more, read Top 10 Green Industries.)

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