• The catastrophic explosion at Beirut port that has so far killed at least 100 people was caused by over 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate kept in storage for over six years.
• In its pure form, ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is a white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water. It is the main ingredient in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction.
• In India, The Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012, under The Explosives Act, 1884, define ammonium nitrate as the “compound with formula NH4NO3 including any mixture or compound having more than 45 per cent ammonium nitrate by weight – including emulsions, suspensions, melts or gels but excluding emulsion or slurry explosives and non-explosives emulsion matrix and fertilizers from which the ammonium nitrate cannot be separated”.
• Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own. It is classified as an oxidiser (Grade 5.1) under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods. If mixed with ingredients like fuel or some other contaminants, or because of some other external factors, it can be very explosive.
• However, for combinations to explode, triggers like detonators are required. Many Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) used by terrorists around the world have ANFO as the main explosive, triggered by primary explosives like RDX or TNT.
• In India, For the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, an Industrial licence is required under the Industrial Development and Regulation Act, 1951. A license under the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012 is also required for any activity related to ammonium nitrate.
Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level: Ammonium Nitrate
Mains level: About Ammonium Nitrate and its application