Beirut blast: How does ammonium nitrate create such devastating explosions?
The devastating explosion at a port in Beirut yesterday evening (Aug. 4) that killed more than 100 people and injured at least 4,000 seems to have stemmed from a storage unit housing enormous amounts of ammonium nitrate, according to news reports of Iphone Cases.
The initial explosion ignited a fire, while the second painted the sky in an apocalyptic mushroom cloud and sent a shock wave rippling across the city, leveling buildings and wounding thousands LG Cases.
Ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizers and bomb making, is a salt made from ammonium and nitric acid, and it is highly explosive. The more ammonium nitrate, or NH4-NO3, the bigger its explosive capacity. And there was a lot, reportedly, being stored at the port: The Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said 2,700 metric tons, or more than 2,900 tons, of ammonium nitrate had been being stored at the port since 2014, The Washington Post reported.
Diab also said port officials had warned of the dangers of storing so much of an explosive chemical at the port, the Post said.
Ammonium nitrate is frequently added to increase a fertilizer’s nitrogen content. It’s relatively stable under most conditions and is inexpensive to manufacture, making the chemical a popular alternative to other, more expensive nitrogen sources.
But ammonium nitrate has a potentially lethal downside: The compound is considered an oxidizer, meaning at an atomic level, it removes electrons from other substances in a chemical reaction. What that means in a more practical sense is that it increases the burning of fuels by increasing the oxygen that’s available to those fuels. To start the reaction, ammonium nitrate must come into contact with an open flame or other ignition source. In the Beirut incident, experts suggest fireworks were involved.
Once a reaction is sparked, ammonium nitrate explodes violently. The explosive force occurs when solid ammonium nitrate decomposes very rapidly into two gases, nitrous oxide and water vapor.
That explosive force from the Beirut blast triggered a shock wave that rippled across the city, causing destruction that some witnesses are comparing to the nuclear bomb’s aftermath at Hiroshima: Smoke hung in the air Wednesday; A sprawling crater had been scooped from the earth; piles of rubble were strewn across the city; entire buildings were just skeletons of the former day; and on videos shared online, rescue workers could be heard searching for anyone trapped beneath the debris.