Ammonium Nitrate _ Beirut Explosion UPSC

Ammonium Nitrate | Beirut Explosion | UPSC


What is ammonium nitrate, the chemical that exploded in Beirut?

      WHY IN NEWS:

While we don’t know for sure what caused the explosion in Beirut, footage of the incident indicates it may have been set off by a fire — visible in a section of the city’s port area before the explosion happened.

SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 3:Disaster Management : Science


For PRELIMS ammonium nitrate is very important . Look at the reactions and its usage .

For MAINS what are the ammonium nitrate regulations in India should be focussed .


The Lebanese capital Beirut was rocked on Tuesday evening local time by an explosion that has killed at least 78 people and injured thousands more.



  • Ammonium nitrate does not burn on its own.
  • Instead, it acts as a source of oxygen that can accelerate the combustion (burning) of other materials.
  • For combustion to occur, oxygen must be present.
  • Ammonium nitrate prills (pellet) provide a much more concentrated supply of oxygen than the air around us.

At high enough temperatures, however, ammonium nitrate can violently decompose on its own.

  • This is why it is effective in mining explosives, where it’s mixed with oil and other fuels.


This process creates gases including nitrogen oxides and water vapour.

  • It is this rapid release of gases that causes an explosion.
  • Ammonium nitrate decomposition can be set off if an explosion occurs where it’s stored, if there is an intense fire nearby.
  • It’s relatively difficult for a fire to trigger an ammonium nitrate explosion.
  • The fire would need to be sustained and confined within the same area as the ammonium nitrate prills.
  • Also, the prills themselves are not fuel for the fire, so they would need to be contaminated with, or packaged in, some other combustible material.


  • It has been reported 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored in a warehouse for six years without proper safety controls.
  • This is tragic circumstances that resulted in a commonplace industrial fire causing such a devastating explosion.

An ammonium nitrate explosion produces massive amounts of nitrogen oxides.


  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) is a red, bad-smelling gas.

Nitrogen oxides are commonly present in urban air pollution, and can irritate the respiratory system.   

  • Elevated levels of these pollutants are particularly concerning for people with respiratory conditions.
  • The fumes in Beirut will present a health risk to residents until they naturally dissipate.


  • Ammonia is one of the most highly produced inorganic chemicals.
  • There are numerous large-scale ammonia production plants worldwide, producing a total of 144 million tonnes of nitrogen (equivalent to 175 million tonnes of ammonia) in 2016.

China produced 31.9% of the worldwide production, followed by Russia with 8.7%, India with 7.5%, and the United States with 7.1%.


  • Ammonium nitrate has the chemical formula NH₄NO₃.

Ammonium Nitrate _ Beirut Explosion

It is made by combining ammonia gas with liquid nitric acid, which itself is made from ammonia.

  • Produced as small porous pellets, or ‘prills’, it’s one of the world’s most widely used fertilisers.
  • Ammonium nitrate, or AN (NH4NO3), is the basis of most explosives used in the mining industry.
  • Its detonation usually must be deliberately initiated, but there have been a number of instances when it has spontaneously exploded, at great risk to life and property.

One of the causes has been identified as the presence of pyrite (FeIIS2) in contact with the explosive.

  • Another is the presence of naturally high temperatures in the ore body, from some geothermal source.
  • These causes are termed ‘reactive ground’ and ‘hot ground’, respectively .

      IASbhai WINDUP: 

Ammonium nitrate is classified as dangerous goods and all aspects of its use are tightly regulated.

  • The explosives industry has developed emulsion explosives due to their superior water-resistance, and low environmental impact over traditional explosives.
  • However, when sulfide ores are present, or in hot grounds, inhibited emulsion explosives must be used to prevent premature detonation of the explosive.
  • The explosives industry achieve this by the addition of urea, to extend the ‘sleep time’ of the product.
     SOURCES:DownToEarth | Ammonium Nitrate | Beirut Explosion | UPSC

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