Glen MacGillivray photo
Speaker: Glen MacGillivray
Nray Services Inc.
Topic: Neutron Radiography: Life After Chalk River
Location: J.L. Gray Centre
Deep River, Ont.
Date: Thursday, October 23, 1997 (8:00 pm)

Summary published in North Renfrew Times, November 12, 1997:

Neutron Radiography Entrepreneur Speaks in Deep River

by Jeremy Whitlock

From the depths of despair, to the heights of euphoria, small-business has its ups and downs -- especially when you hook your lifeline to a university reactor soon to be declared moribund. This was the theme of an engaging tale told by Glen MacGillivary, president of Nray Services Inc., addressing a public meeting of the Canadian Nuclear Society last Thursday. Nray Services is the commercial neutron radiography company spun off from AECL in 1994. Quite appropriately, the subject of Mr. MacGillivray's talk was "Neutron Radiography: Life After Chalk River".

A small but receptive audience at the J.L. Gray Centre heard how Mr. MacGillivray came to Chalk River as a fuel materials researcher in the early 1980s, then quickly took over the reins of AECL's neutron radiography program when the resident "expert", Alan Ross, retired. Neutron radiography takes images of the insides of objects, like x-rays, but with two essential differences: it penetrates thick metallic objects, and it can differentiate between elements or isotopes of almost identical mass. This makes the technology useful in the research of nuclear fuels, since it can not only image the fuel pellets within a metallic fuel pin, but also contrast the individual uranium and plutonium isotopes.

These same unique characteristics make neutron beams essential for quality-checking jet turbine blades as well. Tiny cooling channels cast within these metallic blades can be neutron radiographed, and microscopic amounts of residual casting material picked out immediately. This is important, since even the smallest amount of residual material can be destructive to the engine as a whole, and possibly to the airplane itself. Given the size of the aerospace industry, and the fact that neutron radiography is the only non-destructive tool that can perform this job, the commercial prospects are staggering.

Under the direction of people like Glen MacGillivray, the NRU reactor by the late 1980's was supporting the world's "premiere" neutron radiography facility, in terms of both image quality and exposure time. For a while AECL entertained the idea of a commercial turbine-blade inspection operation, but various factors conspired against this initiative. Besides the market's inherent unpredictability and Chalk River's unfavorable location, a major recession in the aerospace industry made the business untenable for AECL.

Almost immediately, Mr. MacGillivray took the business to the private sector, originally intending to rent the NRU's radiography facility. However, this option was removed when AECL management balked at the prospect of serious perceived licensing issues. The private business, Nray Services, then signed a contract with the McMaster University Reactor in Hamilton, and within months had produced its first radiograph.

Then disaster struck. In May 1995 the university announced the closure of its reactor, due to rising operation costs, insufficient revenue, and decreasing academic usage. During this harrowing period, Mr. MacGillivray sardonically reports that his decision to leave AECL "did not look too clever", and his popularity at home diminished. Fortunately, after over a year of grueling uncertainty, the commercial prospects of McMaster's reactor turned around, and it is now operated successfully as an almost completely commercial venture.

Today, Nray Services Inc. is in a growth mode. It currently does business on four continents. It manufactures, designs and sells neutron radiograph equipment and supplies, in addition to its radiography operation in Hamilton. Mr. MacGillivray has consulted on international radiography projects in conjunction with the IAEA, and continues to serve on international standards committees and organize conferences on the subject. A couple of weeks ago, Nray Services was successful in its bid to modify the RMC radiography facility in Kingston (installed by AECL in the early 90s) for the examination of corrosion in CF-18 fighter jet components. Mr. MacGillivray also outlined his future plans for the company, branching into onsite industrial radiography units, and improved imaging technology combined with gamma radiography.

Through all of this, Glen continues to live and work in Petawawa, raising Norwegian Fjord Horses on a small acreage with his wife and part-time office manager Kate (formerly Kate Holmes, of Deep River), and two children. It was a pleasure to listen to Glen's story of "life after Chalk River", shedding light on an area of nuclear technology unfamiliar to many, as well as the fascinating life of high-tech entrepreneurship.