It's one of the fastest-growing developed nations in the world.
In fact, 30 years ago it wasn't even a developed country. Its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was only $2,300.
Today that per capita GDP is over $30,000. Total GDP has increased from $88 billion to $1.46 trillion.
A few weeks ago, this nation became only the seventh to join the 20-50 club, meaning it has a per capita income over $20,000 and a population over 50 million.
It has two of the most robust high-speed rail networks in the world with trains traveling almost 200 mph. Its subway system is also one of the largest in the world with over 300 stations.
It has the fastest broadband Internet network in the world, with more connections per capita than any other country.
Its companies — including LG, Samsung, Kia, and Hyundai — are some of the fastest-growing in their industries.
I'm talking, of course, about South Korea.
And as you can see, its resume is impressive and growing. You could say almost unequivocally they're “doing something right.”
So for our purposes, it's important to see how they're fueling all this growth — not monetarily, but as it relates to energy.
It isn't hard to see the one energy source that's grown lockstep with South Korea's economic ascension...
The country built its first nuclear power plant in 1977. Its rise to economic powerhouse began in 1980.
Today nuclear accounts for 30% of generation, but because of its high reliability, it accounts for 45% of the country's total electric consumption.
Since that first reactor in the late seventies, South Korea has built 22 more. The United States hasn't built any.
(The U.S. ranks 26th in Internet connectivity and has no high-speed rail. You decide if there's correlation.)
Korea plans to bring 11 more reactors online between now and 2021, bringing nuclear's share of electric generation up to 60%.
What's more, they're also planning on exporting the technology. Once dominated by household names like GE, Westinghouse, and Areva, the Koreans plan on exporting 80 new reactors by 2030.
Korea has already won a $30 billion deal to supply four reactors to the United Arab Emirates. It's also building one in Jordan... and more deals are currently being arranged with Turkey, Indonesia, India, China, and Malaysia.
Nuclear energy is not dead.
In fact, I'd say nuclear is only contentious in countries with populaces that have the time or cultural proclivity to waste time and effort on that stuff. I'd be willing to bet there's a link between reality TV viewership and inane opposition groups.
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But What about Japan?
Japan had a tragic nuclear accident. But the reality is every evaluation has since found Fukushima was a preventable, man-made disaster stemming from the conformist tendencies of Japanese culture.
As a result of the disaster, all 54 of Japan's nukes were shut down.
Japan was generating no nuclear energy for the first time since 1970 — and it was miserable, including rolling blackouts and drastically reduced factory output at companies like Nissan, Toyota, and Panasonic.
So, a year and four months after the meltdown, Japan is firing up its nukes once again...
Two units will be restarted this month with more to follow.
And the public supports it.
Pro-nuclear politicians are winning office while antis are losing.
Take a look at a piece of a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this week:
A Japanese governor who supports the restart of a nuclear plant in southern Kagoshima prefecture won a new term by a landslide on Sunday in a closely watched election following Japan's resumption of operations at its first — and so far only — reactors after a two-month period without nuclear power.
The Sunday vote shows how... the mostly rural prefectures hosting the reactors are hesitant to pull the plug as they depend on them for jobs and subsidies — and worry other power-starved businesses may flee.
So there you have it.
The country that played host to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl is already clamoring to restart the nukes less than a year and a half later.
Only Germany and Switzerland have announced they're completely abandoning nuclear power, but that won't be complete until 2030 or later... and by then new nukes in China, India, and elsewhere will have completely picked up the slack.
Net-net, nuclear's still growing. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong or a zealot.
There will, of course, be a renewed eye on safety.
Between new reactor and fuel designs and the demand for uranium itself, investors would be wise not to sleep on nuclear.
It's supplying half of the electricity in the fastest-growing economies in the world... and those economies are hungry for more.
Call it like you see it,
Nick is the Founder and President of the Outsider Club, and the Investment Director of the thousands-strong stock advisory, Early Advantage. Co-author of two best-selling investment books, including Energy Investing for Dummies, his insights have been shared on news programs and in magazines and newspapers around the world. For more on Nick, take a look at his editor's page.
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