Russia asks ICI to solve problem of unwanted ammunition: Heather Connon reports on a huge weapons recycling plan

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IMPERIAL Chemical Industries has been called in by Russia to help it to find a commercial solution to one of its biggest headaches - 2 million tons of unwanted ammunition.

The group has won a dollars 300,000 grant from the US Trade & Development Agency to conduct a feasibility study on recycling the stockpile for commercial use. ICI is already the world's leading specialist in recycling weapons as well as the largest manufacturer of commercial explosives.

The feasibility study, to be carried out by ICI Explosives Environmental Company of Pennsylvania will first catalogue the weapons, which are stored in eight locations in Russia.

It will then produce a detailed study of one location, recommending the best method of dismantling them in the most environmentally protective manner, and recycling the explosives for use in local mines.

Bob Morhard, vice-president of ICI Explosives Environmental Company estimates that recycling the ammunition - enough to re-run the Gulf war several times over - could take 10 years. 'It is by far the largest ammunition recycling programme in the world - 10 times the size of the de- militarisation of the East German army,' he said. 'And we will be the first Western company to go into the former Soviet Union and catalogue by quantity, type, location, and condition all its ammunition'.

The company estimates that the recycling programme could yield more than 500,000 tons of brass, steel and aluminium as well as substantial quantities of explosives and propellants. These could be invaluable in Russia's mining industry - it has vast mineral deposits and coal reserves which are under-exploited.

A 90-pound piece of tank ammunition, for example, could yield 20 pounds of brass and explosives, steel and propellants.

Although these could all be re-used, the programme would have to be funded by Western aid. ICI estimates that US companies could gain business worth as much as dollars 100m - a large part of which could go to ICI Environmental Explosives Company.

ICI will publish a pathfinder prospectus on Wednesday for the planned demerger of its bioscience company, Zeneca, from its basic chemicals business. The demerger will be accompanied by a pounds 1.3bn rights issue. Pricing of the rights issue is set to take place on 3 May.