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What's He Building in There? spacer Issue 8
What's He Building in There? - Ulster Industrial Explosives
by Jason Mills
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You may be surprised to learn that our daily lives owe a considerable debt to the ancient Asian alchemists who were, allegedly, the first to accidentally discover explosives. Nowadays, not only do explosions help sell bloated Hollywood blockbusters, they are also a means of extracting various forms of rock, such as limestone and granite, from quarries and mines. This provides us with the raw materials for necessities such as buildings, roads, steel and glass-making, water purification and sewage treatment.
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One source of the interesting arrangements of chemicals used in this process is the Ulster Industrial Explosives company, whose website proudly proclaims their 30 year commitment to customers in the mining and quarrying industry in Northern Ireland. Mr.Gordon Best of the Quarry Products Association, an enthusiastic man, describes this industry as 'a small but vital part of the economy'. He tells me that it employs about 5,600 people here, around 1,800 of whom actually work in quarries. Most of the quarries are family owned and the vast majority use UIE in blasting operations to liberate rock.
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Another quick scan through the UIE website reveals some details of the different bulk emulsion explosives and watergel explosives used, in what is obviously a meticulously controlled operation. Em-Ex, Energel and Ammogex are amongst those listed, although sadly for those of you with a copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook there is no easy online order and delivery service. Indeed, no two blasting jobs are the same, and a team of professionally qualified Civil and Mining Engineers and Engineering Technicians will be on site to co-ordinate the use of the explosives in the shothole, as well as measuring and recording the relevant details, such as ground and air vibrations. As would be expected there is a lot of reference to health and safety regulations and the website even provides some useful hints such as 'Gloves must be worn when handling exposed explosives', 'Fires involving explosives must not be fought' and, perhaps best of all, 'Smoking while handling explosives is forbidden'. Ambitious young paramilitaries take note.
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With my background research fairly substantive, I proceeded to phone UIE to see what other titbits of knowledge they could impart to a budding young explosives enthusiast like myself. I was put through to Mr. Ashley Haslett, the Managing Director, who, although pleasant, didn't seem too taken with my article. 'It's very much a niche market and we know all our customers by name. I feel it's in the public interest for us to remain out of the limelight as I'm sure you can appreciate'.
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I ask him about security measures but Mr. Haslett isn't keen to continue our conversation as he has things to blow up. 'We live with security all around us' is all he offers. Well, what had I expected? A clipboard and a Hans Blix style guided tour?
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Undeterred, I head for the address hoping for at least a glimpse or photograph of these darkly mysterious premises, which I now envisage to be heavily fortified; armed guards peering suspiciously from watchtowers, electric fences reinforced by reams of barbed wire, perhaps a moat full of starving sharks with lasers attached to their heads. What I find is a rather unremarkable business park on the northern outskirts of Carrickfergus. I wave cheerily to the grey-haired security man who, perhaps momentarily confused, waves back and raises the barrier. Wheeling into a parking space outside the Unit, I hop out somewhat bemused to investigate the underwhelming building in front of me. The UIE initials are on the letterbox but it is shared with a fabrics company and appears to consist solely of offices. A cunning façade concealing busy laboratories? Maybe. More likely however that this is the administrative home of the company and the actual dangerous stuff is kept well away from innocent secretaries and prying members of the public. Whatever the story, my short wander around is beginning to arouse some suspicion, what witha twitching venetian blind to my right and the security guard now leaning out of his post up ahead. Apprehensive of being seized and interrogated in a dark, dank basement, I hop in the car and drive off.
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Northern Ireland has always been subject to tighter regulation as far as industrial explosives go, although apparently in the new Climate of Fear the rest of the UK is also keeping a closer eye on unauthorised people lurking around explosives factories. Don't say you haven't been warned.
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What's He Building in There? - Ulster Industrial Explosives
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