Boom time for ICI at the TNT factory: Explosive manufacturers have discovered a new market, writes Chris Blackhurst

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The Independent Online
PSST, want some old TNT or warhead propellant?

If you do, get down to Charlestown, Indiana, where ICI has just become the new landlord of one of the world's biggest munitions dumps.

In a bizarre-sounding venture, the British chemicals giant intends to recycle US Army explosives.

The stuff that cannot be converted to civilian use will be burnt - or, literally, blown up.

ICI is already the world's largest manufacturer of commercial explosives with 30 per cent of a dollars 5bn-dollars 10bn market. But the takeover of INAAP - or Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, to use its correct military designation - puts the British company on a rather different footing.

Bomb factories do not come much bigger than INAAP. The 11,000-acre site contains 1,400 buildings, 185 miles of roads and 89 miles of railroad track. In official speak, it produces such friendly end-user products as 'propellant charges, charge bags, single-base smokeless propellant and black powder' - basically, anything that goes bang. But not, ICI is quick to point out, the really nasty nuclear variety.

INAAP was built back in the dark days of 1940. Production ceased in 1945, only to start up again for Korea and then for Vietnam. Hamburger Hill and the Tet Offensive proved good for business - at one stage during the Vietnam War, the plant employed 18,995 people.

Not any more. Paul Levesque, a US Army spokesman, said that 'decreasing requirements' - fewer people being shot and fewer buildings blown up to you and I - meant the plant was 'currently in an inactive status', with only a few hundred workers.

ICI won the contract after an awesomely titled and top secret 'Ammunition Summit' of US military top brass in Virginia, in February. It must have been a humbling, sad affair, as the generals discussed the best way to dispose of redundant weapons.

The company gets to use a state-of-the-art, well-maintained factory. In return, it will employ local people and keep the production lines warm - just in case the previous occupant needs to make a sudden return.

(Photograph omitted)