Record Nuclear Shutdowns Seen Boosting `Pummeled' Natural Gas

  • Thirty-four nuclear units slated to close this spring: analyst
  • Reactors refuel in spring and fall to minimize losses

More U.S. nuclear reactors will close for refueling this spring than at any time in nearly two decades creating a power shortage that may lift beaten-down natural gas.

Operators plan to shut 34 reactors, or more than a third of nuclear generating capacity, to replace fuel rods from March through May, according to Michael Rennhack, president and chief executive officer of, a website that advertises jobs in the sector. That would be the most for the time of year in data going back to 2000, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and projections from Rennhack.

The closures may be good news for gas, the worst performer in the Bloomberg Commodity Index as generators that burn the fossil fuel run harder to make up for the nuclear shortfall, according to Kyle Cooper, director of research with IAF Advisors in Houston. The power plant and heating fuel has tumbled about 28 percent this year as weak demand amid unseasonably warm weather has allowed a glut in supplies to persist.

"Natural gas has been pummeled by bad-weather forecast after bad-weather forecast, so this is the first glimmer of hope in a while," Cooper said by phone Friday. "This could provide some enthusiasm for the market."

Scheduled closures this season include Exelon Corp.’s Nine Mile Point unit 1 north of Syracuse, New York, and FirstEnergy Corp.’s Beaver Valley unit 2 outside of Pittsburgh, the data show. Nuclear reactors provide about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.

All told, reactors with capacity to provide about 36,000 megawatts of power may shut this spring. That’s up from the same time a year ago when 20 units with about 22,300 megawatts were projected to shut. Operators typically schedule refueling outages during the spring and fall when demand wanes to minimize lost power sales. Companies generally withhold market-sensitive information such as the estimated duration of the closures.

In a region that extends from Virginia to Florida, nine reactors with about 9,800 megawatts of generating capacity are scheduled to close to replace spent fuel rods, Rennhack’s data show. From Washington to Maine, 10 reactors with about 9,600 megawatts of capacity will shut.

Exelon spokeswoman Jill Lyon confirmed by e-mail that Nine Mile Point unit 1 will close for refueling this spring without providing an estimated restart date. FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young declined to confirm the timing of the Beaver Valley reactor outage, according to an e-mail Friday.

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