Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Ammonium Nitrate:  Behind the massive explosion in Beirut

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ammonium Nitrate and its uses

Mains level : Chemical disasters these days

The catastrophic explosion at Beirut port, Lebanon caused by the blast of over 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, has rocked the world.

Practice question:

Q. Despite a robust policy framework governing the hazardous chemicals in India, the recent gas leakage incident in Vizag highlights India’s unaddressed vulnerability to chemical disasters. Critically comment.

What is Ammonium Nitrate?

  • In its pure form, ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is a white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water.
  • A common chemical ingredient of agricultural fertilizers, the nitrogen-rich compound is also the main component of the explosive composition known as ANFO — ammonium nitrate fuel oil.
  • It is the main ingredient in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction.
  • 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 the majority of terror attacks in India, ammonium nitrate has been used along with initiator explosives like RDX.

Ammonium nitrate as an explosive

  • Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own.
  • It is classified as an oxidiser (Grade 5.1) under the UN 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.

Stored ammonium nitrate is a major fire hazard

  • Large quantities of stored ammonium nitrate are regarded as a major fire hazard, with multiple reported cases across the world.
  • The explosion of large storage can happen primarily in two ways.
  • One is by some type of detonation or initiation because the storage comes in contact with the explosive mixture.
  • Second, the blast can result due to a fire which starts in the ammonium nitrate store because of the heat generated due to the oxidation process at large scale.

Regulations in India about ammonium nitrate

  • Because it is used as an ingredient for the production of explosives, anaesthetic gases, fertilizers, cold packs and has a possibility of misuse, it is highly regulated in India.
  • There exists the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012, under The Explosives Act, 1884.
  • It defines ammonium nitrate as the compound with formula NH4NO3 including any mixture or compound having more than 45 per cent ammonium nitrate by weight.
  • The manufacture, conversion, bagging, import, export, transport, possession for sale or use of ammonium nitrate is covered under The Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012.
  • The rules also make storage of ammonium nitrate in large quantities in populated areas illegal in India.
  • For the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, an Industrial licence is required under the Industrial Development and Regulation Act, 1951.
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