Investors are taking another look at nuclear energy on the back of a new documentary on the topic from Oliver Stone that was screened at Davos. The American filmmaker known for “Wall Street,” “Platoon” and “JFK” has taken on hot-button issues in his movies before. In his latest documentary “Nuclear Now,” Stone argues for the use of nuclear energy as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. “It’s going to be a miserable existence if we have worse and worse hurricanes, fires, droughts. It’s frightening,” Stone said in an interview with CNBC’s Tania Bryer at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We had the solution [nuclear power] … and the environmental movement, to be honest, just derailed it. I think the environmental movement did a lot of good, a lot of good … [I’m] not knocking it, but in this one major matter, it was wrong. It was wrong,” Stone said. For investors, the film adds to growing interest in nuclear power as a fossil fuel alternative beyond renewables. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year , which designated some $369 billion in spending into emissions-reducing technologies, has altered the outlook in the U.S. In fact, nuclear power will account for 15% of the nation’s energy by 2050, according to a recent note from Wells Fargo. The Wall Street firm previously forecast its share at 8%. The new estimate assumes both nuclear plants being decommissioned as they age as well as an evolving mix of energy sources in the years ahead. “We see a number of factors making the nuclear energy outlook optimistic for the coming years/decades, as countries around the world are realizing the importance of having a secure source of energy, with nuclear energy being one of the preferred sources for clean energy, energy independence and security,” read an October note from Citi. Still, the pace of that change is not expected to be even across the industry. Regulatory hurdles, as well as ongoing concerns from some environmental activists about the waste the process produces, could hinder progress on new projects in different regions. Here are some of the companies that could benefit. Brighter outlook in the U.S. In the U.S., the nuclear energy outlook improved after the IRA. The legislation would extend the lives of reactors currently operating in the country. That would be boon to the 93 reactors across 30 states that count for about one-fifth of the nation’s total electricity, according to a Citi note. That trend should support shares of companies like Duke Energy , according to Citi. Duke operates about 11 nuclear units at six different sites , but Citi said the company is hoping to build a small modular nuclear reactor in the Southeast, and has announced other projects in Utah. These types of reactors are about a third of the size of a typical nuclear power plant and can be used in remote locations. CEG 6M mountain Constellation Energy shares hit a high above $97 a share in late November. Wells Fargo’s top nuclear pick is Constellation Energy , which the firm said would be among the biggest beneficiaries as it is the operator of the largest fleet of nuclear plants in the U.S. Shares are down about 4% year to date, but over the past 12 months, the stock has nearly doubled. According to FactSet, the average price target for Constellation is $99.77, or about 20% above where it’s currently trading. NextEra Energy is another name Wells Fargo favors, saying it is “uniquely positioned to capitalize on the capital investment opportunities” that are ahead. Nextera is diversified with units that generate power from a variety of sources, including nuclear. It also provides infrastructure services that are needed for new power projects. NextEra shares are down more than 8% this year, but the stock holds an average rating of buy, according to FactSet. The stock’s average price target is $96.49, which implies a 26% gain from where it’s currently trading. NEE 6M mountain NextEra shares are down more than 8% so far this year, but the stock gained nearly 2% over the past 52 weeks. Bank of America said traders investing in the nuclear power theme could check out Public Service Electric Group , saying in an October note that PSE & G operates unregulated nuclear plans in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which is “underappreciated” by investors. The stock has an average rating of overweight and an average price target of $67.21, according to FactSet. Shares are down more than 1% so far this year at about $60. ETFs tracking the trend Meanwhile, global nuclear energy exchange-traded funds are seeing a pickup in investor interest in the first few weeks of 2023 after declines last year. The Global X Uranium ETF (URA), which has about $1.69 billion in assets, has jumped more than 12% in 2023. Last year, URA dropped about 12%, a decline that still outpaced the S & P 500’s returns. These funds invest in a variety of stocks tied to nuclear power throughout the value chain. These include companies involved in extracting uranium to refining it to those that manufacture equipment for nuclear plants. Examples include Denison Mines, Cameco and Centrus Energy , among others. Other global nuclear energy ETFs such as Sprott Uranium Miners (URNM) and the VanEck Uranium+Nuclear Energy (NLR) have gained more than 13% and 4% in 2023, respectively. Across the globe Other nations are expected to significantly ramp up their nuclear capabilities, notably in Asia. For example, China, which has more than 50 reactors, is looking to roughly double its fleet by 2030, according to Citi. In October, Citi considered Shenzhen-based CGN Power a buying opportunity, citing its “rising market-based tariffs, decent capacity expansion, positive free cash flow.” Meanwhile, India is planning to raise the number of reactors from 22, according to Citi, and political support for nuclear power is also growing in South Korea, which manufactures its own nuclear capabilities. Conversely, Western Europe is projected to lower its global nuclear capability to about 20% from 25%, read the note.
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