(Adds links, background on U.S. nuclear reactors)
Feb 2 (Reuters) - Exelon Corp said on Friday it will shut the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey in October 2018, about a year earlier than planned.
In an agreement with New Jersey in 2010, Exelon said it would shut the plant by December 2019 rather than install costly cooling towers to reduce the amount of water it removes from the Barnegat Bay for cooling purposes.
Exelon said the earlier closure will allow it to meet that commitment while helping about 500 employees at the plant to find jobs elsewhere in the company as well as manage costs.
The company also said the decision will help it better manage resources as fuel and maintenance costs continue to rise amid historically low power prices.
The U.S. nuclear industry has been suffering for several years as cheap and abundant natural gas from shale formations has depressed power prices, making it uneconomic for many reactors to continue operating.
Over the past five years, U.S. nuclear operators have shut six reactors and plan to shut another six reactors over the next five years.
The 99 nuclear reactors operating in the United States provide about 20 percent of the nation's power.
Oyster Creek, located about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Philadelphia in Ocean County, New Jersey, is one of the oldest operating reactors in the United States. It entered service in 1969 and is capable of generating about 608 megawatts of power.
One megawatt can power about 1,000 U.S. homes.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Paul Simao)