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

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  •  Ammonium Nitrate is a well known explosive (1+ / 0-)
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    It produces more gas per weight than any other explosive.

    It will explode if you hit it hard enough with a hammer.

    It is difficult to get it to explode on a small scale because it will just scatter, but when you have tons of it in a silo, that much mass just isn't going to move, so an explosion can be very destructive.

    •  Chemisty (1+ / 0-)
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      " according to chemist Jimmie Oxley, ammonium nitrate is a lot less dangerous than you might guess. Despite a history of high-profile explosions, like the one that happened last night, ammonium nitrate isn't considered to be that big of a danger. In fact, Oxley called it a "marginal explosive" — a chemical that is mostly safe, but can become dangerous when the conditions are just right.
      ...According to news reports, ammonium nitrate might not have been only chemical culprit at work in West, Texas. The factory had large stores of both ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia — a flammable gas — according to the LA Times. The ammonium nitrate storage building was at the center of the blast, according to local Dallas/Ft. Worth news. It's not clear which of these chemicals was the source of the explosion. But if it had more to do with the anhydrous ammonia then the chemistry explanation for all of this would be different...
    •  Err... (2+ / 0-)
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      PeterHug, happymisanthropy

      "It will explode if you hit it hard enough with a hammer."

      ...No, it won't.  AN's essentially shock and friction insensitive on that scale, unless it's been contaminated with certain metal salts or organic compounds.  

      It's difficult to get pure AN to explode, period, unless you heat large amounts of it up to melting and then shock it, and even then, only the melted part tends to detonate unless the stockpile's extremely large.  (One government website I saw said that at least 300T would be needed, or it would just deflagrate instead of detonate.)  That's why, whether it's being used by guys in a quarry or mad bombers, it's -always- mixed with a sensitizer beforehand.

      •  It will explode if you shock it hard enough (0+ / 0-)

        I saw a table where they were letting a weight free fall onto samples of different explosives. They recorded the minimum height required to create an explosion. Nitroglycerine was something ridiculous like one inch. Ammonium Nitrate was something equally as ridiculous like 100 inches.

        This was in a book that I had decades ago. I can't find a similar table online. All I could find was a government document where they were exploding it by shooting bullets at it.

        No explosive is immune to shock.

      •  I wasn't suggesting to use claw hammer and a brick (0+ / 0-)

        in your backyard. You will never get it to explode that way.

        I was just making the point that AN is an explosive on its own.

        If you smash it hard enough between two pieces of metal, it is going to explode. Maybe you need a big machine to swing the hammer, but it can be done.

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