July 10 (Reuters) - U.S. nuclear power plant outages fell to the lowest level in almost two years on Wednesday, in time to meet peak summer demand for air conditioning, according to Reuters data.
Nuclear outages dropped to 3,947 MW out on Wednesday from 5,426 MW out on Tuesday, the data said.
That's the lowest number of nuclear outages since August 2011, when about 3,668 MW of capacity were out of service, the data said.
Last year, there were about 6,800 MW out at this time and the five-year average out was 4,200 MW.
Over the next week or so, the number of nuclear outages is expected to decline further as Constellation Energy Nuclear Group's 630-MW Nine Mile Point 1 reactor in New York, FirstEnergy Corp's 894-MW Davis-Besse reactor in Ohio and Xcel Energy Inc's 554-MW Monticello reactor in Minnesota are expected to return to service.
Even if the reactors return as expected and nothing shuts unexpectedly, a couple of other units will likely remain shut, keeping total nuclear outages well above the lowest level seen in at least five years of just 314 MW in July 2008, according to Reuters data.
The two reactors expected to remain shut until at least later in 2013 are Entergy Corp's 842-MW Arkansas 1 in Arkansas and Omaha Public Power District's 482-MW Fort Calhoun in Nebraska.
There are 100 operating nuclear reactors in the United States capable of generating over 97,800 MW, enough to power about 80 million homes.
Nuclear reactors produce about 20 percent of the country's generation and operate around the clock as baseload facilities, providing some of the lowest-cost power.
Natural gas traders follow nuclear outages closely because plants burning gas usually make up much of the power supply when the nuclear plants shut.
It takes roughly 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to generate about 1,000 MW.