America’s Nuclear Power Generation Hits a 10-Year Seasonal Low

  • Reactor outages give natural gas-fired generators a boost
  • Normal seasonal refueling at some plants add to the deficit

The amount of electricity generated by U.S. nuclear reactors hit its lowest seasonal level in a decade as malfunctions and closures tied to Hurricane Matthew combined with routine maintenance to drag down production.

The nation’s nuclear output fell on Tuesday to 81,600 megawatts, or about 79 percent of capacity, according to U.S. government data. That’s the lowest level for this time of year since 2006.

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Nuclear plants account for about one-fifth of the nation’s power generation. The outages mean natural gas use by generators will probably rise as grid operators rush to replace lost supplies at a time of unseasonably warm temperatures. That should affect prices, said Kit Konolige, a utilities analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

"To the extent that nukes are down more than usual, gas will be running more," Konolige said by telephone. "There could be some upward pressure on the power price because of the gas replacing nuclear."

Among the plants shuttered was Dominion Resources Inc.’s Surry 2 nuclear power plant in Virginia, which closed Tuesday due to a system error. NextEra Energy Inc.’s St. Lucie 2 reactor in Florida went offline as a safety measure ahead of Hurricane Matthew, which battered the state’s coast as a Category 3 storm last week. The NextEra plant will return to service in the near future, said Peter Robbins, a company spokesman.

Reconnecting Customers

“Our focus is on getting our final customers who were affected by Matthew reconnected,” Robbins wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

The closures come as twenty-three nuclear units, accounting for about 23 percent of total capacity, are slated to close to replace spent fuel rods in the three months through November, according to Michael Rennhack, who heads up NukeWorker.com. Operators swap out the spent fuel rods during the fall to take advantage of a seasonal lull when demand slumps amid mild conditions.

Dominion didn’t immediately respond to e-mails and calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

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