U.S. spring nuclear plant outages near 1999 peak


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HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. nuclear capacity shut for spring maintenance outages was the highest in more than a decade on Tuesday as storms and extended repairs have kept several reactors offline, according to Reuters data.

More than 29,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity was out of service Tuesday, well above seasonal projections and nearly matching the 29,300 MW outage “peak” seen in the spring of 1999.

Natural gas traders follow nuclear outages closely because plants burning gas make up much of the missing nuclear generation. It takes about 185 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to generate 1,000 MW of electricity.

Mid-April is typically the height of the spring outage season when operators refuel and do maintenance before summer power demand climbs.

Nuclear plants operate round-the-clock as baseload facilities, providing some of the lowest cost power.

Only about 19,000 MW of nuclear generation was scheduled to be shut this spring, compared with 20,200 MW in 2010.

Since 1999, spring outages peaked at 29,300 MW in 1999 and bottomed at 16,100 MW in 2004.

On Tuesday, Progress Energy shut its 920-MW Brunswick 2 nuclear reactor in North Carolina for additional repairs as it was returning from a refueling outage.

Over the weekend, a tornado damaged the switchyard at Dominion’s 1,598-MW Surry nuclear station in Virginia, shutting both units.

Earlier this month, new containment wall damage was discovered at Progress Energy’s 838-MW Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida, extending the unit’s 18-month outage indefinitely.

The 104 U.S. nuclear power reactors are capable of generating about 100,756 MW of electricity, enough to power about 80 million homes.

(Reporting by Eileen O’Grady; Editing by Gary Hill)

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