The media has always portrayed to us that the massive cloud resembling mushrooms is the main show of nuclear bomb explosions, which suddenly jumped to our minds yesterday with the spread of videos of the Beirut Port area explosion, it started with the exit of dense initial smoke clouds from the area, which prompted many citizens to direct their phones In the direction of the port, then in one moment a thick ball of white smoke was released, which in the next moment turned into the famous mushroom cloud.
The explosion was truly so massive that its impact extended to a circle several kilometers around the area of the explosion, and the Governor of Beirut stated that he destroyed half of the city, and there were even indications that people in Cyprus (1), more than 200 km away, felt the explosion! Until now we know that more than 100 people have died with several thousand injured people, while the President of the Lebanese Republic, Michel Aoun, called (2) for an emergency meeting of the Supreme Defense Council, which issued recommendations to the Council of Ministers, including the declaration of Beirut as a "disaster city" and the declaration of a state of emergency for two weeks.
But despite all that, what happened in Beirut did not carry some important basic characteristics of nuclear explosions, which usually include (3) a very bright white flash and very intense heat enough to ignite many fires in a wide circle around the explosion, as well as the cloud Chorion in the case of nuclear explosions usually stays for a period of time, but these disappeared immediately.
A mushroom-like cloud is not only a hallmark of nuclear explosions (4), but a characteristic of any explosion strong enough in the public, this cloud occurs because of what we know as “Rayleigh-Taylor Instability” and means that if two fluids move They have a different density from each other, which creates the distinctive mushroom shape.
In fact, if you focus a little while adding milk to the hot tea, you will notice, for a short time, that the milk makes a mushroom shape under the cup as soon as it falls, and if you decide to drop a few drops of a colored substance into the water, its drops will do the same.
In the case of massive explosions, a very intense heat is produced at the center of the explosion that raises the heat of the surrounding air strongly to become less intense, and with the extreme pressure of the explosion this air is released in the form of a ball that swells very quickly, but because it is less dense than the surrounding air that compresses it from the sides it penetrates Ascending to the sky, it is possible for her because it is less dense, and with its rise it becomes colder, so the air above this current from the bottom resists and flattens it, which makes the famous mushroom shape.
But it remains that we are sure of one main thing, which is that what makes this mushroom cloud must indeed be a truly massive explosion, and the Lebanese Prime Minister had indicated (6) that one of the surrounding warehouses contained a quantity of ammonium nitrate of 2750 tons, stored there About six years ago, the cause of this massive explosion.
Ammonium Nitrate (7) (NH4NO3) is a colorless crystalline compound, mainly used in agricultural fertilizers because it is able to feed plants with the nitrogen you need. Ammonium nitrate compound is cheap and effective compared to other nitrogen products, so it is usually used agriculturally, but alongside It is therefore used in the manufacture of explosives, especially in the case of mining.
It was also monitored by the use of this substance for terrorist purposes, for example, the ammonium nitrate compound was used in the bombing of the Alfred Mora Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma, United States on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring 680 Others destroyed a third of the building. For the purpose of causing this explosion, Timothy McFee and Terry Nichols used a truck full of explosives and ammonium nitrate.
Other examples include the explosion of the tourist area of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali (9), the attack that was considered the bloodiest in the history of Indonesia, which killed 202 people, as well as the explosion (10) of the Delhi High Court in 2011 and the 2013 explosion in Hyderabad (11) In India, too, of course the reason for using this material for terrorist acts is simple. It is available on the market and there is no law that deals with it as explosives.
If exposed to continuous heat, the ammonium nitrate is dissolved (12) into nitrogen oxides and water vapor, these fumes that are released in an explosive wave whose velocity is estimated at 2500 meters per second is the cause of the explosion and not the combustion of the ammonium nitrate itself. The nitrogen oxide that comes out of this reaction is Red (13), which can be linked to the Beirut explosion, after the first explosion wave, thick red clouds appeared to a red structure from the site of the explosion, indicating that the initial statements about the cause of the explosion were closer to health, it was ammonium nitrate.
Was the Beirut port terrorist incident such as the ones we mentioned earlier? This is possible. Although ammonium nitrate is a substance used in the manufacture of explosives, it needs appropriate conditions to explode, one of them must be ignited, as well as usually mixed with petroleum materials to facilitate its ignition. Only ammonium nitrate ignites at 210 ° C, but once it is stopped Fire until ignition stops, there must be conditions that help the explosion enter a continuous chain of reactions.
But on the other hand, it may also be just an accident that has nothing to do with terrorism, this is not the first time that has happened, in fact the most catastrophic industrial accident (14) in the history of the United States of America related to ammonium nitrate, it started at eight in the morning on the 16th April 1947, in the US port of Texas, workers noticed mounting fumes from a warehouse and they called up the fire truck, which came quickly.
The fire did not subside quickly, and before anyone was able to extinguish the fire, it reached ammonium nitrate stores and contained 2300 tons of this substance. This caused a massive explosion that was followed by several other explosions in the neighboring ships, some of which contained ammonium nitrate and others on petroleum materials, It was then classified as the largest non-nuclear explosion in history, affecting thousands and killing about 600 people.
As we mentioned a while ago, to detonate ammonium nitrate, you need a way to continue the explosion, one of the methods is usually used in terrorist events, which is to use another material to make an initial detonation near a large block of ammonium nitrate (a shock that turns into detonation). detonation transition), this detonation works to continue combustion and consequently an ammonium nitrate explosion in a major detonation.
But despite this, the ammonium nitrate material itself can start to explode if it is exposed to a high and continuous temperature (deflagration to detonation transition) due to a fire or fire to its vicinity with the presence of flammable side materials. It is believed that it is the case of Beirut, especially since the initial fumes in the warehouse lasted for a period and then the massive explosion occurred, as well as the conditions for storing ammonium nitrate in the Beirut port were insecure, which indicates that the material may have been contaminated with other materials that facilitate the continuation of the ignition.
One of the most famous examples of similar fires that led to the explosion of a large amount of ammonium nitrate was the accident of 17 Tianjin 2015, this massive explosion killed more than 170 people and injured thousands, it started with a big initial explosion and then followed by a massive major explosion thirty seconds later, until now we know That this place contained 800 tons of ammonium nitrate in addition to 500 tons of potassium nitrate, these materials were stored, according to the Chinese government report, along with more than 40 other materials that have the ability to ignite easily or explode, which justified the occurrence of an initial fire caused In the explosion of ammonium nitrate.
In any case, the possibilities tend to point out that what happened at the Beirut port is a massive non-terrorist accident, and the investigations may show something else in the next few months, but if you look a little into it, you will find that we are facing one of the largest non-nuclear explosions that we have seen in our history, in In the case of Texas the amount of nitrates was about 2,300 tons (with an additional amount in a nearby vessel) and in the case of Tianjin the quantity was less than that, what about the effect of 2,700 tons of the same material?
For this reason, declaring Beirut as a disaster city was completely appropriate to the severity of the accident, in fact after learning a bit about this kind of catastrophic accident related to ammonium nitrate and its explosive capabilities, we have only to wish for the safety of our brothers in Beirut and Lebanon as a whole, God was in their help, all My condolences and sympathy for them in their suffering.
1- Beirut explosion: buildings destroyed and cars upturned in aftermath of blast - video
2- Beirut explosion: Lebanon is in mourning, after a massive explosion that killed more than 100 people
3- The Beirut explosion created a huge mushroom cloud and visible blast wave, but nuclear weapons experts say it was not an atomic bomb. Here's why.
4- What are the processes that determine the strange shape of a mushroom cloud after a nuclear, thermonuclear or major chemical explosion?
5- Rayleigh-Taylor instability and mixing
6- What is the substance that caused a nuclear explosion like Beirut?
7- Ammonium nitrate
8- Oklahoma City bombing
9- Terrorists kill 202 in Bali
10- India bomb: Delhi High Court explosion kills 11
11- Deadly Bombings Hit Southern Indian City
12- - Ammonium nitrate
13- Nitrogen Oxides
14-Fertilizer explosion kills 581 in Texas
15- Shock Wave Science and Technology Reference LibraryB. W. Asay
16- The previous source
17- China explosions: What we know about what happened in Tianjin