Investment University’s Profit from Uranium
Copyright 2007, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ
$29.95, 38 pages.
Trying to review a technical investors manual as a work of literature is an experiment. I’m not sure how one is expected to evaluate such a book. At roughly one dollar per page it’s an expensive and dull read. As a book in the “how to make a million” genre I find it a little thin and not particularly deep or insightful. However when taken as a book on who to invest in if you’ve already made up your mind about Uranium as a good investment then it’s probably OK if you’ve never heard of Google.
I grew up in the “duck and cover” era. Uranium was both the savior and nightmare of the Utopian society we were promised. We had to be prepared, at any moment the Great Bear of the North would send his vast fleets of bombers (and later missiles) hurling down upon us. Although we were 40 miles outside New York City we had to be prepared to duck under our desks as soon as we saw the flash. That was kindergarten. By first grade they realized that we would have several hours or at least several minutes warning so we practiced marching into the purpose built shelter designed to withstand (or so they told us) the explosion of multiple atomic bombs a few miles away and protect us from the insidious poison that was radioactive fallout for weeks if necessary. There was talk that our parents would not be allowed to pick us up if the sirens went off and that the Police had machine guns to mow our parents down if they tried. No one believed it and my parents had a basement fully stocked with water and canned goods.
It was a scary time to grow up in. We knew that when we were 18 we would be drafted and if we were very lucky get to see an atomic bomb go off in the desert of the American Southwest. There were communists hiding in closets and under beds and it paid to be vigilant. The Uranium mines of Canada and the far west were in full production and if you were a coal miner you headed west where the yellowcake was as sweet as the gold was a hundred years earlier. Atoms for peace promised a never-ending supply of almost free electricity. Uranium was king. Utopia died a slow death.
The cold war gave way to the Vietnam War and the threat of mutually assured destruction stabilized all but our third world proxies and we found out that all those miners were dying of Uranium poisoning. Our unlimited free electricity suddenly had a price to pay in decayed waste, poisonous for thousands of years into the future. Uranium suddenly wasn’t so pretty any more. The US called a halt to building new atomic power plants but this didn’t stop the French or the Japanese who embraced atomic power with gusto. Largely because of atomic power Europe has some of the cleanest air on the planet. An American traveling in Europe can’t help but notice it.
America’s aversion to new Nukes survived the gas crisis of the 1970’s, the rampant inflation of the 1980’s and the Gulf war of the 1990’s. A petroleum engineer we know once said, “there’s no shortage of oil, there’s lots of it, it’s just a matter of what you’re willing to pay for it.” Adjusted for inflation we’ve been paying just about the same amount we always have for oil. What changed?
China and 911! Since 1949 mainland China has had a series of “Great leap forwards” that mostly resulted in economic belly flops while Taiwan and Hong Kong exploded economically. China finally got a clue about the same time Great Britain relinquished control over Hong Kong. Since then the Chinese economy has exploded. Whatever excess capacity existed in 2000 is gone, absorbed by the demands of China and India where economic growth marches on in double-digit percentages year after year. An unfortunate confluence of events have finally led us, in the U.S., to realize that without a drastic change in the way we do business our way of life is near an end. This has created a renewed interest in nuclear energy and alternative, preferably, “green” sources of energy.
America has a habit of waiting until the last moment before acting and when we act it’s often in an unreasoned, almost desperate fashion. Suddenly every town wants a wind farm, every house needs to be a source of solar energy every field of grain a source of ethanol for our cars. Suddenly nuclear energy looks “green” as we realize that it’s the America of the 1950’s with out the terror but with the promise that we secretly hope for.
So what does an investment portfolio look like in the new world order? If we want windmills GE reminds us that they are in the business with their series of eco-ads. I’m sure there are other vendors of windmills … in Holland perhaps? If it’s ethanol you want then Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) would like you to think that they’ve been on top of it for decades. I’m not sure if there are any publicly traded moonshiners out there to invest in. No one is touting the conversion of coal into liquid fuel or the burning of the Alberta tar sands yet so if you are a fad investor do your own google search. If you believe that Uranium is the future and want to forget that the associated problems of radioactive waste have not been solved then do a google search or buy this book.
Without giving away the plot, which consists mostly of naming the characters, let me give you a hint: Australia, Canada and a publicly traded company created by the U.S. Government. Keep in mind that there is a risk to investing in Uranium that is not mentioned in the book. In the U.S. at least, the promise of fusion has been just around the corner for decades. If a breakthrough occurs and fusion can be captured, bottled and commercialized then Uranium will resume its place as a source of very destructive weaponry and not of joy. Not a very “green” investment.