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3 Plays in Nuclear Energy

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Middle East turmoil recently pushed up the price of crude oil, as I wrote in Friday's edition of Small Cap Investor Daily.

It is also a stark reminder that the world remains addicted to fossil fuels. In the years ahead, you'll hear about a growing roster of countries turning to nuclear energy to meet their electricity generating needs.

A pound of uranium, proponents of nuclear energy argue, can generate as much energy as 20,000 pounds of coal -- while reducing harmful emissions.

Over the next 20 years worldwide use of nuclear energy is expected to nearly double. For example, the World Nuclear Association says in its report that China has 13 nuclear power reactors in operation already, with 25 more under construction.

Americans are becoming more receptive to nuclear energy as the benefits over fossil fuel power become more apparent. A February survey sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute found that more than 70 percent of Americans favor the use of nuclear energy as a source of U.S. electricity. Certainly this group is not entirely unbiased, but the results are still noteworthy.

Right now, about 20 percent of the U.S. electricity grid is lit up by nuclear power, with the remainder mostly reliant on fossil fuels.

The surge in nuclear power demand is likely to be a boon for investors who buy the right stocks in the sector. In fact, 100 percent, or even 1,000 percent, gains over the next several years are not beyond the realm of expectations. To give you a head start investing in this space I'll take a quick look at a few small-cap companies that have the potential to become bigger players in the nuclear energy space. ***In December I wrote about Uranium Energy (UEC) and the company's plans for south Texas. The stock has been bouncing around since then, without a clear resumption of the upward trend that pushed it above $5 in November, 2010.

Uranium Energy's main projects are the Goliad and Palangana projects in Texas. Analysts project the company could be profitable on a normalized basis, excluding one-time charges and other non-reoccurring events, in 2011 and on a GAAP basis in 2012.

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