But the U.S. Department of Energy, which says small modular reactors offer the advantage of lower initial capital investment and smaller siting requirements, is actively supporting the development of SMRs. It aims to deploy the technology by 2025.
In December, the Energy Department selected a Holtec competitor to receive a portion of the $452 million available for small reactors. Holtec announced it was going ahead with its design without federal support.
Holtec's 160-megawatt-reactor design, which it promotes as "unfailingly safe and economical," would be built primarily underground to protect its vital systems from air or terrorist attack. It says the reactor, called SMR-160, is passively cooled and does not rely on off-site power to shut down.
Holtec's announcement that it would continue without federal support reflects an ambitious company that believes its design will reshape an industry whose image has been impaired since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island.
"We remain firm in our decision to forge ahead on our own and bring SMR-160 to the world as a carbon-free alternative that, once and for all, would rid nuclear power of the stigma of Fukushima, Chernobyl, and TMI," it said.
Holtec says it is working with PSEG Nuclear, South Carolina Electric & Gas, and others on the SMR project.
Joe Delmar, a spokesman for PSEG, said the utility wanted to build another nuclear plant near its Salem and Hope Creek sites and "would strongly consider" a Holtec small reactor for the new plant.
Commercial nuclear reactors have been built in the past by industrial giants like General Electric and Westinghouse, so the development of a reactor would be a big leap for Holtec, which manufactures heat exchangers and condensers for power plants.
It builds some of those parts at its plant in Turtle Creek, near Pittsburgh.
Its application with New Jersey says the new Camden facility could also manufacture some of "its current line of nuclear products, heat exchange equipment, and other weldments for delivery to the company's customers worldwide."
Holtec's bread-and-butter business is supplying equipment for storing spent nuclear fuel, which remains highly radioactive and hot after its useful life producing power.