Union Carbide Corp. said today that it expects to restart its production of methyl isocyanate (MIC) here sometime Friday after a five-month shutdown.

Resumption of the production cycle at the company's plant in Institute, a few miles west of here, will mark the first time the deadly chemical will be produced in the United States since a massive MIC release last Dec. 3 killed an estimated 2,000 people outside a Carbide factory in Bhopal, India, prompting Carbide to shut down MIC production at the West Virginia facility.

At a briefing here, Carbide spokesman Thad Epps said the company had virtually finished most of its testing of 75 pieces of equipment at the Institute plant. Unless new difficulties develop overnight, the company plans to begin mixing two chemicals -- phosgene and monomethylamine -- in a reaction cycle to produce MIC early Friday morning, he said.

Since halting MIC production at the Institute plant immediately after the Bhopal disaster, the company has invested more than $5 million in new equipment and plant improvements that will provide "an extra margin of safety" at Institute, Epps said. The company also was given a green light by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies.

"We've looked at this facility with a fine-tooth comb," Epps said.

Among the changes implemented since Bhopal, Carbide no longer will ship MIC to the company's Woodbine, Ga., facility. Instead, it will turn most of the MIC at Institute into a "less hazardous" derivative chemical called aldicarb, Epps said.

Both MIC and aldicarb are intermediary compounds in the production of agricultural pesticides.

Carbide, however, remains under contract to supply MIC directly to some of its suppliers, he added. Those suppliers still will be able to receive MIC at the Institute plant, although the actual shipment of the substance will be their responsibility, Epps said.

Despite Carbide's assurances of safety at the plant, a small band of protesters formed a car caravan in front of the Institute plant today, carrying posters that read "MIC Kills," "Remember Bhopal" and "Safety Before Profit."