July 31 (Reuters) - Exelon Corp, the biggest nuclear power operator in the United States, said Wednesday that weak prices for power and for natural gas have pushed it to reduce operating and maintenance costs but the company is not yet giving up on any of its reactors.
U.S. generating companies so far in 2013 have retired four reactors, the most in any year, due to weak power market conditions or because the plants were too costly to repair.
"We have worked hard over the last couple of years to continue to focus on cost to maintain some of the viability of the smaller units," Exelon CEO Christopher Crane told analysts in a conference call following release of the company's second quarter earnings.
"There is nothing on the chopping block right now. It is constant work to look at cost. It is constant work to look at regulatory structure and if it does not improve we will be talking more about those facilities."
Crane mentioned two of the company's smaller reactors - the 1,065-megawatt Clinton in Illinois and the 581-MW Ginna in New York.
Clinton employees have come up with a "good plan" to move the plant to an annual refueling and maintenance outage cycle instead of the current biennial cycle, he said.
That new outage cycle would help keep Clinton "viable for years to come as the market recovers," he said.
Clinton is next expected to shut for refueling and maintenance in the autumn of 2013, according to Reuters data.
"It's a well run plant that last year had a zero-forced loss rate, so we are not ready to give up on it, we will continue to optimize its cost structure, maintaining it is safe but also neutral on the balance sheet," Crane said.
As for Ginna, Crane said bringing the small reactor "into the Exelon cost structure" will "give us time" to look at the policies evolving in New York around the power capacity market and transmission.
Exelon and French power company Electricite de France SA , the co-owners of Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, which operates Ginna, this week said Exelon Generation will take over operation of Constellation's five reactors over the next nine months.
Constellation operates two reactors at the 1,595-MW Nine Mile plant in New York, two reactors at the 1,753-MW Calvert Cliffs plant in Maryland and Ginna.
After integrating the Constellation plants, Exelon said it will operate 22 reactors at 13 locations in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Maryland with a total generating capacity of 19,165 MW and more than 11,000 workers.
One megawatt can power about 1,000 homes.
For a factbox on U.S. nuclear power reactors that have been shut