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View Diary: Texas fertilizer plant was storing highly explosive ammonium nitrate (83 comments)

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  •  Blaming the explosion on the anhydrous ammonia (8+ / 0-)

    Never made much sense. The presence of so much ammonium nitrate clarifies what likely happened. I doubt the plant was in proper compliance with even the lax regulations you'd expect in Texas.

    Just another faggity fag socialist fuckstick homosinner!

    by Ian S on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 11:05:05 AM PDT

    •  No, it really doesn't. (11+ / 0-)

      The anhydrous ammonia BLEV explains the blast very well.  If the place was actually storing 275T of Ammonium Nitrate, then the AN didn't detonate.  If it had, there would be nothing left but a smoking crater and a much larger radius of devastation.  

      Pure AN is exceedingly stable.  You can hit it with hammers, set it on fire (so long as the fire isn't contained,) and in general handle it like a bag of sand or salt.  Just don't set off any high explosives on it -- and even that won't always set off AN, because the pure stuff needs a very high-energy (read high-speed) shockwave to set it off.  The BLEV explosion wasn't a proper detonation, and should be too slow to set off the AN.

      AN is always mixed with a sensitizer when being used as an explosive, either industrially or in bombings, because it's so insensitive that most primers aren't sufficiently high-energy to set it off reliably.  But when it goes, boy, does it ever go.

      •  Yup (9+ / 0-)
        But when it goes, boy, does it ever go.
        Texas City,  April 16, 1947.

        It rubs the loofah on its skin or else it gets the falafel again.

        by Fishgrease on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 02:22:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah. That was famous. (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mr Robert, Fishgrease, myboo, basket, DSPS owl

          What happened to the ship is probably what happened to the plant. This is from the Wikipedia article:

          The 38% ammonium nitrate, used as fertilizer and in blasting agents, was manufactured in Nebraska and Iowa and shipped to Texas City by rail before being loaded on the Grandcamp.
          It was manufactured in a patented process, mixed with clay, petrolatum, rosin and paraffin wax to avoid moisture caking. It was also packaged in paper sacks, then transported and stored at temperatures that increased its chemical activity. Longshoremen reported the bags were warm to the touch prior to loading.
          Around 8:00 a.m., smoke was spotted in the cargo hold of the Grandcamp while it was still moored at its dock. Over the next hour, attempts to put out the fire or put it under control failed as a red glow returned after each effort to douse the fire.
          Shortly before 9:00 a.m., the captain ordered his men to steam the hold, a firefighting method where steam is piped in to put out fires in the hope of preserving the cargo. Meanwhile, the fire had attracted a crowd of spectators along the shoreline, who believed they were a safe distance away.[3] Spectators noted that the water around the docked ship was already boiling from the heat, and the splashing water touching the hull of the ship was vaporized into steam. The cargo hold and deck began to bulge as the pressure of the steam increased inside.
          At 9:12 a.m., the ammonium nitrate reached an explosive threshold and the vessel then detonated, causing great destruction and damage throughout the port. The tremendous blast (29.3756°N 94.8916°W) sent a 15-foot (4.5 m) wave that was detectable nearly 100 miles (160 km) off the Texas shoreline. The blast leveled nearly 1,000 buildings on land. The Grandcamp explosion destroyed the Monsanto Chemical Company plant and resulted in ignition of refineries and chemical tanks on the waterfront. Falling bales of burning twine added to the damage while the Grandcamp's anchor was hurled across the city. Sightseeing airplanes flying nearby had their wings shorn off,[4] forcing them out of the sky. Ten miles away, people in Galveston were forced to their knees; windows were shattered in Houston, Texas, 40 miles (60 km) away. People felt the shock 100 miles away in Louisiana. The explosion blew almost 6,350 tons of the ship's steel into the air, some at supersonic speed. Official casualty estimates came to a total of 567, including all the crewmen who remained onboard the Grandcamp, but many victims were burned to ashes or blown to bits, and the official total is believed to be an undercount. All but one member of the Texas City volunteer fire department were killed in the initial explosion on the docks while fighting the shipboard fire, and with the fires raging, first responders from other areas were initially unable to reach the site of the disaster.

          For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

          by Anne Elk on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 02:38:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  What exploded then? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mr Robert

        For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

        by Anne Elk on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 02:33:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The anhydrous ammonia storage tanks. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lorell, PeterHug, DSPS owl

          There's a big difference between an explosion and a detonation, when you're talking explosives -- a detonation has a supersonic shock front, and an explosion has a subsonic one.  As far as I'm aware, BLEVs are almost always subsonic, while detonations of high explosives are always supersonic.  

          Both have shit blowing up, both can do extensive damage, but the detonation of a quarter-kiloton of AN would have a much larger blast.

          ... Actually, I did some research on just now and the ammonium nitrate may have spontaneously deflagrated, which adds to the blast but not to the extent that it would had it detonated.  See for more info.

      •  Thanks for information. Still not reassuring. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mr Robert, DSPS owl

        Next to schools and a nursing home, 270 tons of something of which the best that can be said is that it's really difficult to make it explode?

        Freedom isn't free. Patriots pay taxes.

        by Dogs are fuzzy on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 02:34:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Indeed. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PeterHug, DSPS owl

        AN isn't even classified as an explosive, le alone a high explosive. It's a blasting agent. As you say, it will do f' all without proper detonation. It has a high energy density, but it is not explosive.

        I just read a bit on the Oklahoma City bombing, and the 2-3 tons of Ammonium Nitrate used there measured as a 3.0 earthquake. The West explosion "only" measured as a 2.1.

        Repeal the 2nd amendment.

        by Calouste on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 02:38:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  AN plus fire (0+ / 0-)

        has caused more than one big accident. We don't know the purity here.

        There was a small but classic mushroom cloud and buildings down for blocks around.

        That's a detonation, almost certainly. A true one.

        •  Nope. (4+ / 0-)

          "Mushroom clouds" have nothing to do with the size of velocity of the explosion, but the geometry of it.  

          You can easily get a mini mushroom cloud by tossing a match into a can with a thin layer of fine-grained black powder or lower-energy flash powder at the bottom.  No explosion.

          Just because there were buildings knock down for blocks around doesn't mean that there was a detonation.  The BLEV explosion would do that handily, too.  So would a MOAB fuel-air explosion.  Neither of which are considered detonations.  

          The main point, however, is that if this was a detonation of 275 tons of AN, it would have been much, much larger.  There wouldn't have been a fiery ruin left of the storage facility; there would have been a smoking crater, and the "houses knocked down" radius would have been larger than four or so blocks.

      •  Here is a link to a video of a BLEV on a (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PeterHug, dsteffen, BlackSheep1

        train derailment with some propane cars and other assorted tankers.  It is significant because this is when Illinois set the Tank Car distance record of close to 3/4 of a mile.

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