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.
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.