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Tickers in this Article: SO, TOSBF, GE, NLR, EXC, PKN, NUCL
As the world's energy needs continue to increase and greenhouse gas emissions become a higher priority, many governments and utilities have shifted their focus towards renewables. Although solar and biofuels tend to get most of the press, another fuel source is having a worldwide resurgence. Nations around the world have begun a nuclear renaissance, building reactors at a quick pace. While memories of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl still plague the sector, today's nuclear power plants invoke green energy security and vision for the future.

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New Generations
Today's Generation IV reactors are light years away from the first reactor designs. They're safer and the fission process produces no greenhouse gas emissions, unlike fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. In addition, nuclear fission produces none of the fossil-fuel pollutants that cause acid rain such as sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. Nuclear energy does have benefits as well. Uranium is a very efficient energy source with one ton of uranium producing the same kilowatt-hours as 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of crude oil. It requires more than 360 hectares of land to create one MW worth of power from biofuels, for nuclear it's less than six hectares. These environmental reasons have pushed nuclear power back into forefront.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, as of August 2010, 29 countries worldwide are operating 441 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 60 new plants are currently under construction in 15 countries. Both Japan and France have long used the technology to fuel their energy needs, and the power source is gaining traction in emerging markets. Of the 60 reactors currently being built around the globe, 23 are in China and four are in India. Russia is in the process of building 11 nuclear sites. In the United States, utility Southern Company (NYSE:SO) was the recipient of an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to build the first new reactor since the 1970s.

A Worthy Portfolio Addition
As the globe looks for new solutions on how to quench its thirst for energy, the nuclear power revival will continue chugging along. Recent joint ventures such as General Electric's (NYSE:GE) joint venture with Hitachi (NYSE:HIT) represent how corporations are taking this rebirth seriously. Investors with long enough timelines might want to add some atomic energy to their portfolios.

The Market Vectors Nuclear Energy ETF (NYSE:NLR) is the most liquid way to add the entire sector. The fund follows 23 of the largest uranium miners, plant design and construction firms as well as a few major nuclear based utilities such as Exelon (NYSE:EXC). The ETF's heavier weighting in the uranium miners has helped it out perform its rival funds the PowerShares Global Nuclear Energy (NYSE:PKN) and iShares S&P Global Nuclear Energy Index (Nasdaq:NUCL).

One of the side effects of increased nuclear power is that of increased radioactive waste. US Ecology (Nasdaq:ECOL) specializes in handling and disposing of this level of hazardous waste. Regulated as much as the nuclear industry itself, only a small handful of companies provide these waste removal services. US Ecology should benefit as more reactors roll out across the nation. Investors are rewarded with a nearly 5% dividend while they wait.

The future of nuclear power may rest in mini power plants. There are several start-up firms that developing small modular reactors that designed to provide anywhere from as little as 200 KW to as large as one GW of power. While it takes a venture capital pedigree to get into one of these start-ups, investors can place their bets with Toshiba (OTCBB: TOSBF.PK), which has partnered with TerraPower on the design and construction of 25 MW mini-reactors.

Bottom Line
As governments around the planet search for carbon-light energy sources to meet our increasing needs, nuclear power is once again in the forefront. Today's reactor designs are far superior to their predecessors. These new designs will help spur the energy source as a major contributor to future energy pie. Investors with long enough timelines may want to add capital to the sector. The preceding companies are a great place to start. (For more related stock analysis, read Nuclear Energy Of The Future.)

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