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Beirut Blast: An Accident or Human Error?


By: Elena Grace Flores

YouTube video by BBC

Beirut blast: Lebanon in mourning after massive explosion – Top stories this morning – BBC

Perception Prior to Investigation Results

An investigation is underway to find the exact trigger for the recent Beirut explosion. However, its visuals and circumstances can tell some logic. What were the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate doing in port storage? They are highly explosive materials perhaps forgotten in a warehouse for around six or seven years due to some legal issues. The massive devastation can easily imply a terrorism act. However, the physical evidence likely to rule it out. Therefore, it can only be a mere accident or human error or mismanagement.

ANFO or Ammonium Nitrate/Fuel Oil

ANFO is a widely used bulk industrial explosive. It consists of 94% porous prilled ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) (AN), which acts as the oxidizing agent and absorbent for the fuel, and 6% number 2 fuel oil (FO). The (AN) component of this is the one found at the Beirut explosion site, an oxidizer. It can degrade over time due to heat and other exposures. The unstable condition can then create sparks, especially when exposed to perhaps aluminum foils from the fireworks or any fuel. It may be just unfortunate that there was also firework storage in the same vicinity.

Figure Analysis

The reactions and series of fires in the visuals indicate that the spark from the AN-Fuel combination caused them to ignite. This leads to a massive explosion with a yield of at least 200 tonnes. This is a conservative estimate since ANFO is only 0.74 equivalent to TNT and it’s unlikely that 100 percent of all the materials were used. The larger range is from 2 to 3 kilotonnes maximum and around 200 tonnes minimum. For comparison, the Hiroshima atomic/nuclear bomb explosion was 12-kilotonnes.

Fr. Jose Bosch Innovative Skills Training Advocacy Cooperative (ISTAC)

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