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Holtec a tech firm with ambitions to grow

Camden's potential role in Holtec International Inc.'s future is part of a larger plan by the company to accelerate its already rapid growth of recent years.

Camden's potential role in Holtec International Inc.'s future is part of a larger plan by the company to accelerate its already rapid growth of recent years.

In recent interviews, founder Krishna P. Singh and other officials of the Evesham-based power-plant supplier have described a vision for the company in which it would develop and build small reactors, which they said would be cheaper and safer than 20th-century nuclear power stations and greener than fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

That, they expect, would require hiring thousands of engineers, scientists, manufacturing workers, salespeople, and managers.

New Jersey is not alone in buying into Holtec's vision.

In documents filed with federal and South Carolina officials in 2012, Holtec and its business partners proposed building the new-model nuclear power plants - smaller and less expensive than the older-generation power stations that line stretches of the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Schuylkill Rivers - at the federal Savannah River nuclear site in South Carolina.

That proposal won support from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whose father's family has roots in the same part of India as Singh's. She called herself a family friend last fall as she attended dedication ceremonies for the $80 million Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania, where Singh studied engineering.

Singh donated $3,500 to Haley's gubernatorial campaign in 2011, according to South Carolina campaign finance records.

Pierre Oneid, who heads the company's nuclear project, noted at the time that Holtec's proposal also enjoyed support from Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.), and then-Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), and that some of the work supporting the reactors would be done in New Jersey.

Singh gave Runyan's congressional campaign $7,400 between 2010 and 2012 and donated $2,500 to Andrews in 2012, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Federal officials eventually turned down Holtec's proposal for federal funds for its model reactor. But Holtec said it would continue work on reactor development with its own money. The company has been advertising this year for nuclear power engineers and other specialists.

While Holtec is based in South Jersey, it owns manufacturing operations in a 750,000-square-foot former Westinghouse plant near Pittsburgh and another factory it purchased in Ohio. The company also has a facility in Florida.

In an interview with The Inquirer after the May election of Narendra Modi of the Indian People's Party as prime minister, Singh expressed hope that Holtec would get to build nuclear power plants for India, where Modi hopes to rapidly boost electrical-generating capacity.

Singh also said he hoped to be able to expand manufacturing and exports from sites closer to home.

"We are planning to propose a much larger interaction with India in the nuclear energy sector," he said. "If our plans go forward, our workers in the Delaware Valley will be making large capital equipment for decades to come, for building nuclear plants in India to meet that nation's exploding need for clean energy."

Under an agreement, amended last year, PSEG, New Jersey's dominant electric utility, said it would provide operator training, process development, and regulatory compliance help for Holtec's small-reactor program.

Last year, PSEG president William Levis said he was taking the deal "one step further," negotiating the right to acquire part-interest in Holtec's nuclear technology. Levis has headed a Holtec advisory committee, and he attended the Singh Nanotechnology Center dedication to express his support.

If all Singh's plans go through - and the company can find customers for its nuclear plants - Holtec would be at the center of an industrial revival, developing reactors at its South Jersey headquarters, installing and testing them at PSEG nuclear plants in the area, and exporting and importing parts or whole plants through the Camden port.