Nuclear-garment firm thrives in second life
Hoping for new wave of Candu reactors
MIKE KING, The Gazette, Friday, October 26, 2007
It could be said serial entrepreneur Dan Naygeboren nuked his competition to become the only supplier in a very niche market - protective garments for workers in the Candu nuclear reactors.
Naygeboren recalled yesterday that when he purchased Titan Safety Products Ltd. in 1997, his 13th business since 1984, it was the smallest of only three players that manufactured safety suits for use in Candu reactor facilities.
"It was basically bankrupt when I bought it, the previous owner was winding down," he said. "I saw an unbelievable opportunity of how nuclear energy would be the way of the future."
Dan Naygeboren of Titan Safety Products gets help from Gary Hamilton to put on one of the company's protective garments for work in nuclear reactor.
PHIL CARPENTER, THE GAZETTE
It also helped that within about seven years, his two competitors, Safeco Inc. and Kappler Protective Apparel & Fabrics, were out of the picture, "and I was left as the only one making the suits."
During a tour of the Titan shop in the Chabanel garment district, near the Utex Fashion Group, where Naygeboren got his first job at 26, he proudly displayed "the low-tech operation with high quality control."
The core staff of six employees, most of whom have been with the company for more than 20 years, still work with the same equipment that was there when it opened in 1967.
The entire spaceman-looking protective suit, known as the MK3B, is hand-made with more than 100 different components.
Naygeboren noted, aside from metal snaps, none of the other materials are off-the-shelf.
"I have one-of-a-kind items from five key suppliers" - a PVC-like fabric from France, rubber boots, boot straps, glove rings and air-communication devices.
Because of the heat in Candu reactors, the suits must keep workers cool as well as safe.
While he said the suits may look ordinary, "there's nobody else in the world making them. It's a very tedious and pain-staking operation."
The current staff of nine produces a maximum of 10 suits a day and there are back orders into April.
Titan also makes 30,000 to 40,000 disposable safety garments a year for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
During The Gazette's visit, Naygeboren received a call for a potential order of 3,600 of the MK3B suits over the next two years.
He said his firm supplies workers at the 18 operational Candu reactors in Ontario and at one each in Quebec and New Brunswick, two each in Romania and South Korea as well as the lone one in China.
The suits protect workers from radioactivity in Candu plants, which are the only ones in the world that use heavy water (deuterium oxide) as a moderator and coolant, and natural uranium for fuel.
Naygeboren pointed to plans to refurbish and build new Candu reactors. AECL announced plans last month to build at least eight reactors by 2020 as orders pick up following a more than 20-year lull.
Titan, which has annual revenue of $1.2 million to $1.8 million, sees another lucrative opportunity. It is developing a reusable safety suit with the same material used in the MK3B to replace the disposables, to reduce nuclear waste at the Candu stations and the high cost of dealing with that waste.
Titan is also looking at creating an MK3B with a portable air supply system that would give workers more freedom from the present constraint of a tethered air supply.
While conceding it's a relatively small market, Naygeboren sees great potential.
"Everything is pointing to a nuclear rebirth, renaissance," he said with a smile.