The construction of nuclear power plants slowed following the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, for both economic and safety reasons.
K.P. "Kris" Singh is among the entrepreneurs who seek to get the ball rolling again.
After decades of supplying nuclear plants with technology to store spent fuel rods, Singh is proposing a new kind of small, modular reactor that would be built underground.
The idea fits a pattern of innovation for Singh, 64, president and chief executive of Holtec International, which has its corporate technology center in Marlton and its headquarters in Jupiter, Fla.
Singh, who earned master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, holds 20 patents and has authored dozens of papers on mechanical engineering. The business he created has supplied technology to 150 U.S. power plants, including more than 80 nuclear ones.
Holtec's success reflects Singh's unusual combination of scientific smarts and entrepreneurial know-how, said Eduardo D. Glandt, dean of Penn's engineering school.
"He created technology, and then went out and built a company around the technology he created. To me, that's doubly meritorious."
Singh grew up in India in modest circumstances, and earned a degree from Ranchi University in 1967 before heading to Penn.
"I arrived there at age 20 without a dollar in my pocket," Singh said last year in the Camden Courier-Post.
He founded Holtec in 1986. It manufactures two kinds of equipment for the storage of spent nuclear fuel rods: casks for dry storage and high-density racks for storing the rods in cooling pools. These technologies allow plants to continue to store rods on site.
Holtec's new venture into modular reactors is the work of a subsidiary called SMR L.L.C. Last month, the company was one of three to form small-reactor development partnerships with the U.S. Department of Energy.
Most of the equipment for such reactors would be prefabricated and shipped to the plant location. Because of the reactors' smaller size, their price tag is projected to be as low as a few hundred million dollars, allowing for easier financing.
"It's more of an economic reason than anything else," said Arthur Motta, chair of the nuclear engineering program at Pennsylvania State University.
Holtec also says its design for underground plants with passive operation would allow for greater security.
In the realm of politics, Singh, a Republican registered in Jupiter, has given money to candidates from both major parties, though more often to Republicans. In 2007, he gave $25,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
Through his foundation, Singh gave $20 million to Penn toward the construction of the Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology, a $91 million project that is under construction on the 3200 block of Walnut Street.
Singh's wife, Martha, runs a real estate holding company with properties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida. The couple married in 1974 and have two grown children, Amy and Kris.
Contact Tom Avril at 215-854-2430 or firstname.lastname@example.org