Uranium is a key element in the pursuit of sustainable and dependable energy infrastructure. Amid increased interest and investment in nuclear power in many countries around the world, uranium has the potential to be an attractive long-term investment.
The price of spot uranium hit a 15-year high – climbing 90% over the year due to supply and demand issues that will be explained in this blog.
Several factors have driven the increase in the underlying price of the 92nd element on the periodic table. Just over a decade since the Fukushima disaster, nuclear energy is undergoing an unexpected revival.
First, thanks to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear energy is being increasingly accepted as a more sustainable energy source1 given its low emissions. During 2023’s COP28 climate conference, more than 20 countries pledged to triple their nuclear energy capacity over the next 25 years.2
Second, a European energy crisis3 and paradigm shift have emerged in the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine, which began in early 2022. Imports of Russian commodities into Europe have been limited, catching Germany off guard due to its long-term bet on cheap Russian gas, and with its domestic nuclear energy programme originally scheduled to end around the same time.4
Energy security has also come into focus as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban imports of Russian uranium5 and several G7 nations agreed to invest $4.2 billion U.S. dollars to develop a global nuclear energy supply chain free of Russian influence.6
This isn’t the first time that energy systems and supply have been impacted by geopolitical events. Some investors may recall the oil embargo of the 1970’s.7
As nations commit to new nuclear plants, on the supply side there is currently not enough uranium to meet rising demand8 over the next 20 years.
Supply chain issues at major uranium suppliers in Canada and the world’s largest uranium producer in Kazakhstan have yet to be factored into the demand picture.9 And to make matters worse, a coup in Mali – a major uranium producer as well – has also upended previous uranium production.
This demand gap is prompting some suppliers to re-open old projects or speed up new ones. Uranium producers in the U.S.10 and Australia11 are restarting mining and processing operations in Texas, Arizona and Utah.12 The focus on nuclear has been particularly strong in the U.S., where the Biden administration signaled its commitment last year by offering $1.2 billion in aid to extend the life of distressed nuclear power plants.13
By far the biggest key to the demand picture comes from Asia. In China and India – which combined represent nearly 20% of the world’s population – nuclear energy is seen as a critical requirement to meeting the energy needs of the future. India operates 22 reactors and has plans to construct eight more.14
China is the world’s second-largest producer of nuclear power and accounts for almost half of new reactors under construction around the world.15 It’s currently building 26 reactors.16
China will need new sources of uranium if it wants to meet its nuclear power goals. The country currently has 55 operational reactors, producing an estimated 53 gigawatts of electricity. That’s the equivalent of over 16,000 wind turbines.17
A MODULAR FUTURE
And now a new breed of nuclear reactor could play into the demand story for uranium. These next-generation plants are known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). They supply one-third of the output of a conventional nuclear power plant and have a much smaller footprint.
SMRs are also cheaper to build: conventional nuclear power plants can cost billions while the new breed of smaller-scale nuclear plants cost in the hundreds of millions rather than billions.18 One place where these small modular reactors could have an outsized impact is in Canada’s far north, with SMRs capable of providing sustained low-carbon power regardless of the season – something that solar energy cannot do in regions where the sun does not rise for weeks at a time.19
INVESTING IN URANIUM
For Canadians interested in investing in the uranium opportunity, there are a number of options available. They can consider individual stocks or a uranium-themed investment vehicle such as an exchange-traded fund (ETF).
The Horizons Global Uranium Index ETF (ticker symbol HURA) provides exposure to companies that are primarily involved in the uranium mining and exploration industry and to the price of the underlying commodity.
HURA looks to copy the performance of the Solactive Global Uranium Pure-Play Index. This index is designed to provide exposure to the performance of a group of global stock exchange-listed companies involved in uranium mining and exploration or invest and participate directly in the physical price of uranium.
Since HURA’s inception in 2019, it has gained 32.40% on an annualized basis. For 2023 alone, the ETF was up almost 60%.
Annualized Performance (%)
|Horizons Global Uranium Index ETF
Calendar Year Performance (%)
|Horizons Global Uranium Index ETF
The indicated rates of return are the historical annual compounded total returns including changes in per unit value and reinvestment of all distributions and do not take into account sales, redemption, distribution, or optional charges or income taxes payable by any securityholder that would have reduced returns. The rates of return shown in the table are not intended to reflect future values of the ETF(s) or future returns on investment in the ETF(s). Only the returns for periods of one year or greater are annualized returns.
*Fund performance since inception on May 15, 2019, as at December 31, 2023.
84% of HURA is held directly in stocks with the remaining 16% with exposure to the price of physical uranium, as at December 29, 2023. These two parts of the supply chain would likely see the most significant growth in value with increasing global demand for uranium.
Source: Horizons ETFs as at December 29, 2023.
Investors can find more information on HURA here.