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World Beirut blast: What is ammonium nitrate and why is it so dangerous?

06:50  05 august  2020
06:50  05 august  2020 Source:   news.sky.com

Trump says US generals tell him Beirut blast 'bomb of some kind'

  Trump says US generals tell him Beirut blast 'bomb of some kind' President Donald Trump said Tuesday that US generals had told him that the powerful explosions which rocked Beirut appeared to have been caused by a "bomb of some kind." "It was a bomb of some kind, yes.""It looks like a terrible attack," Trump told reporters at the White House.

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound with the chemical formula NH 4 NO 3 . It is a white crystalline solid and is highly soluble in water. It is predominantly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer.

Ammonium nitrate is a common industrial chemical used mainly for fertiliser because it is a good source of nitrogen for plants. It is also one of the The blast created a 4.5-metre (15ft) tidal wave. The images coming out of Beirut are also horribly reminiscent of the destruction inflicted on the Chinese

If, as seems to be the case, the Beirut explosion was caused by thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse, the blast demonstrates the deadly potential of this common agricultural chemical.

a lot of cheese on a paper: Bags containing ammonium nitrate fertiliser © Reuters Bags containing ammonium nitrate fertiliser

What is ammonium nitrate?

With the chemical formula NH4NO3, ammonium nitrate is a naturally occurring, highly soluble white crystalline solid, more commonly know as saltpetre.

Explosions in Beirut: what is ammonium nitrate?

 Explosions in Beirut: what is ammonium nitrate? © Anwar AMRO / AFP A thick plume of orange smoke rises from the port of Beirut at the end of the afternoon, August 4, 2020, after the explosion of a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate . If the precise cause of the two blasts which devastated the port and a large part of the Lebanese capital on Tuesday August 4 at 6 p.m. remains unknown, it is established that it is a warehouse storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that was used as 'explosive.

Beirut was rocked by the blast , which began with a fire which exploded into a mushroom cloud at the city's port. President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes It is highly explosive when it comes into contact with fire - and when it explodes, ammonium nitrate can release toxic gases including nitrogen oxides

An explosion in the port of Lebanon’s capital on Tuesday devastated the city, with a national day of mourning declared for Wednesday.

The largest deposits are found in the Atacama Desert in Chile, from where it was mined. These days almost 100% of the chemical now used is synthetic, produced by reacting ammonia with nitric acid.

What is it used for?

Ammonium nitrate is predominantly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertiliser. It's relatively stable under most conditions and is inexpensive to manufacture, making the chemical a popular alternative to other, more expensive nitrogen sources.

a pile of smoke: Beirut's prime minister has blamed ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse for the explosion © Reuters Beirut's prime minister has blamed ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse for the explosion

It is also a key component of ANFO, (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil), an industrial explosive used in mining, quarrying, and civil construction and accounting for 80% of all the industrial explosives used in US.

Beirut blast: Tracing the explosives that tore apart the capital

  Beirut blast: Tracing the explosives that tore apart the capital Customs correspondence raises questions about negligence that may have led to the massive blast in Lebanon's capital.The detonation of the material - used in bombs and fertilisers - sent shockwaves through the Lebanese capital, killing scores of people, injuring thousands, and leaving much of the city a mangled mess.

An early explanation was that it involved warehoused nitrates exploding, or other stored “highly One of the most common nitrates in industrial use is ammonium nitrate , used in fertilisers. The huge scale of the blast is becoming apparent as more photos show damage in many areas Beirut , some of

Another potential explanation is that this could be ammunition that is being set off and is burning as you would expect to see when ammunition is hit or is being destroyed. One of the most common nitrates in industrial use is ammonium nitrate , used in fertilisers. It is not ordinarily so explosive in its own right.

The Oklahoma City bomber used fertiliser in his attack in 1995 © Getty The Oklahoma City bomber used fertiliser in his attack in 1995

By itself, ammonium nitrate is not regarded as particularly volatile or dangerous, but under certain conditions it can be deadly.

Most countries have regulations controlling its storage to make sure it is safe.

What makes ammonium nitrate explode?

Particular sets of circumstances are needed to turn ammonium nitrate from a stable compound into an explosive, without any fuel or external catalyst.

It is classified as an 'energetic material', one that produces heat as it decomposes, similar to the way heat is generated by rotting material in a compost heap.

Moment of Beirut explosion
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If there is sufficient quantity of ammonium nitrate, it can generate enough heat to catch fire and keep the fire going, without the need for an external catalyst such as a flame.

Lebanon blast: Ammonium nitrate behind many industrial accidents

  Lebanon blast: Ammonium nitrate behind many industrial accidents When combined with fuel and oil, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry.Notable among these was an explosion at a fertiliser plant in the US state of Texas 2013 that killed 15 and was ruled deliberate, and another at a chemical plant in Toulouse, France, in 2001 that killed 31 people but was accidental.

While ammonium nitrate may have been the primary explosive, the signatures of the initial detonation and mushroom explosion reflect a clear-cut thermonuclear It was also an outright threat directed at Iran. If Israel is so reckless to blow up Beirut , they would easily carry out a similar op in Tehran.

An early explanation was that it involved warehoused nitrates exploding, or other stored “highly One of the most common nitrates in industrial use is ammonium nitrate , used in fertilisers. The huge scale of the blast is becoming apparent as more photos show damage in many areas Beirut , some of

As it burns, ammonium nitrate goes through chemical changes that lead to the production of oxygen, precisely what a fire needs to keep going and get bigger. As it heats up the chemical can fuse together, creating a seal or plug.

The space behind the plug keeps on being heated and gases form.

Hot gas expands, but, behind the plug, it has nowhere to go. Eventually, the gas will break through the seal and the force of that will trigger an explosion.

Fertiliser bombs, the terrorist's weapon of choice

Because of its low cost and ready availability, fertiliser has been used to make bombs. The ammonium nitrate is like the engine behind the explosion, but it also requires a detonator and fuel.

The first thing that happens during a fertiliser bomb blast is the explosion of the detonator.

The energy of the detonation wave causes the ammonium nitrate to vaporise - becoming a gas in an instant. The ammonium and nitrate molecules break down, and a large amount of oxygen gas is suddenly formed.

The gas released from the decomposing fertiliser is what drives the explosion. The rapid release of oxygen, along with the energy from the detonation wave, ignites the fuel.

Lebanon gov't declares emergency in Beirut after deadly explosion

  Lebanon gov't declares emergency in Beirut after deadly explosion Dozens remain missing after huge explosion sent shock waves through Lebanese capital, as death toll rises to 135.About 5,000 people were wounded in the blast and rescue workers continued the search for survivors on Wednesday, combing through the wreckage of buildings. Dozens of people remained missing and the death toll was expected to rise.

Another potential explanation is that this could be ammunition that is being set off and is burning as you would expect to see when ammunition is hit or is being destroyed. One of the most common nitrates in industrial use is ammonium nitrate , used in fertilisers. It is not ordinarily so explosive in its own right.

It is actually a misconception that Taylor used this exact method (dimensional analysis) to estimate the blast yield of the Trinity test, in fact his method was much For those wondering, yeah you can push bare ammonium nitrate to truly detonate if you really try (as opposed to ANFO which is better known).

When the liquid fuel ignites, it rapidly combusts, and even more gas is released.

Fertiliser bomb attacks

:: The Baltic Exchange building in the City of London was hit by a one-tonne fertiliser bomb planted by the IRA in April 1992. The blast in St Mary Axe killed three people, including a 15-year-old girl.

:: Bishopsgate in the City of London was hit with a one-tonne fertiliser bomb by the Provisional IRA in April 1993. One person died and 40 were injured. The bomb - hidden in a tipper truck - left a crater 40ft wide and 20ft deep.

:: Oklahoma City - a bomb targeted the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in April 1995 and killed 168, although an unmatched body part suggests the toll was actually 169. Bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in 2001. Co-conspirator Terry Nichols was jailed for life.

:: Docklands - A massive car bomb detonated beneath South Quay station in London's Docklands in February 1996. The 1,000lb device killed two men, ended a 17-month IRA ceasefire and caused £85m of damage.

:: Manchester - The IRA struck Manchester city centre with a 3,300lb bomb, injuring more than 200 people. No one was killed due to a coded warning phoned in more than an hour before the blast, at 11am on a Saturday morning in June 1996.

It was the largest bomb to explode in Britain since the Second World War.

Explosions in Beirut. Sixteen port officials placed in police custody

 Explosions in Beirut. Sixteen port officials placed in police custody © IBRAHIM DIRANI / DAR AL MUSSAWIR / EPA-EFE The hangars of the port of Beirut after the explosion of August 4, 2020. At least 16 officials of the port of Beirut and the authorities Customs officials were taken into custody in connection with the investigation into Tuesday's deadly explosion of a warehouse containing tons of ammonium nitrate.


Video: Industrial complex in Iran destroyed by fire (Sky News)

Industrial complex in Iran destroyed by fire
  Beirut blast: What is ammonium nitrate and why is it so dangerous? Sky News See more videos
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Australian Beirut explosion victim identified as two-year-old Isaac Oehlers .
Isaac's family says they are heartbroken by the loss of their boy and express condolences to everyone in Lebanon after the disaster which killed 158 people, injured 5,000 and destroyed much of the Mediterranean city of Beirut.His family has issued a statement on their loss following the disaster which killed 158 people, injured 5,000 and destroyed much of the Mediterranean city on Tuesday.

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