Ammonium Nitrate | Beirut Explosion | UPSC
What is ammonium nitrate, the chemical that exploded in Beirut?
WHY IN NEWS:
While we don’t know for sure what caused the explosion in Beirut, footage of the incident indicates it may have been set off by a fire — visible in a section of the city’s port area before the explosion happened.
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 3:Disaster Management : Science
For PRELIMS ammonium nitrate is very important . Look at the reactions and its usage .
For MAINS what are the ammonium nitrate regulations in India should be focussed .
WHAT COULD HAVE CAUSED THE EXPLOSION?
- Ammonium nitrate does not burn on its own.
- Instead, it acts as a source of oxygen that can accelerate the combustion (burning) of other materials.
- For combustion to occur, oxygen must be present.
- Ammonium nitrate prills (pellet) provide a much more concentrated supply of oxygen than the air around us.
- This is why it is effective in mining explosives, where it’s mixed with oil and other fuels.
- It is this rapid release of gases that causes an explosion.
- Ammonium nitrate decomposition can be set off if an explosion occurs where it’s stored, if there is an intense fire nearby.
- It’s relatively difficult for a fire to trigger an ammonium nitrate explosion.
- The fire would need to be sustained and confined within the same area as the ammonium nitrate prills.
- Also, the prills themselves are not fuel for the fire, so they would need to be contaminated with, or packaged in, some other combustible material.
RESIDENTS’ HEALTH AT RISK
- It has been reported 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored in a warehouse for six years without proper safety controls.
- This is tragic circumstances that resulted in a commonplace industrial fire causing such a devastating explosion.
NITROGEN DIOXIDE (NO₂)
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) is a red, bad-smelling gas.
- Elevated levels of these pollutants are particularly concerning for people with respiratory conditions.
- The fumes in Beirut will present a health risk to residents until they naturally dissipate.
- Ammonia is one of the most highly produced inorganic chemicals.
- There are numerous large-scale ammonia production plants worldwide, producing a total of 144 million tonnes of nitrogen (equivalent to 175 million tonnes of ammonia) in 2016.
- Ammonium nitrate has the chemical formula NH₄NO₃.
- Produced as small porous pellets, or ‘prills’, it’s one of the world’s most widely used fertilisers.
- Ammonium nitrate, or AN (NH4NO3), is the basis of most explosives used in the mining industry.
- Its detonation usually must be deliberately initiated, but there have been a number of instances when it has spontaneously exploded, at great risk to life and property.
- Another is the presence of naturally high temperatures in the ore body, from some geothermal source.
- These causes are termed ‘reactive ground’ and ‘hot ground’, respectively .
Ammonium nitrate is classified as dangerous goods and all aspects of its use are tightly regulated.
- The explosives industry has developed emulsion explosives due to their superior water-resistance, and low environmental impact over traditional explosives.
- However, when sulfide ores are present, or in hot grounds, inhibited emulsion explosives must be used to prevent premature detonation of the explosive.
- The explosives industry achieve this by the addition of urea, to extend the ‘sleep time’ of the product.