Sometimes the safest way out of a dangerous situation is to burn everything to the ground. From a house full of explosives to 134 tons of Mexican marijuana, here are nine instances when the best solution is controlled calamity
By Juliet LapidosPosted 01.19.2011 at 1:54 pm 15 Comments
Last November, Mario Garcia was walking toward the backyard of the Escondido, California, home where he worked as a gardener when he stepped on what looked like white powder and heard a boom. The substance, it turned out, was hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD), a compound that reacts violently when exposed to heat and friction. Badly burned, Garcia was rushed to the hospital, and when the San Diego hazmat squad searched the house, they found one of the largest caches of homemade explosives in U.S. history, with several pounds of HMTD and grenades recovered, plus 25 gallons of sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and two guns.
By Rose EvelethPosted 11.08.2010 at 10:20 am 2 Comments
Bomb squads have long used metal detectors, X-ray machines and dogs to uncover threats. Without them, authorities may not have intercepted some of the thirteen homemade explosives that froze Greece’s outgoing mail earlier this week. But soon they may find a new tool in their quest to find the bad guys and their bombs: microscopic worms.
The U.S. army has enjoyed a long and incendiary relationship with TNT, but the explosive that has provided the pop in everything from artillery shells to demolition munitions could be on its way out. The Army has approved a safer, more stable alternative to replace the TNT in 155-millimeter artillery shells, and engineers at Picatinny Arsenal where it was tested say it could completely replace TNT in Army and Marine munitions within a decade.
By Alessandra CalderinPosted 05.18.2010 at 12:25 pm 4 Comments
To conform to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the U.S. must cull its deployed nuclear strategic warheads by roughly 700. Once the National Nuclear Security Administration’s scientists inspect each warhead to determine the best way to take it apart, it goes to Pantex Plant in Texas, the only facility cleared to disassemble nukes.
You've probably seen contestants on Survivor trying to make fire by rubbing sticks together or concentrating sunlight with their eyeglasses. But among preindustrial fire-starting methods, it's hard to beat the portable convenience of fire pistons, used in Southeast Asia since prehistoric times.
By Arnie CooperPosted 04.10.2010 at 6:01 pm 0 Comments
When the “underwear bomber” passed through security last Christmas, no one noticed the three ounces of PETN, one of the most reactive explosives, stuffed in his pants. Now a new portable chemical detector, capable of sensing explosives’ vapor at parts per trillion, could finally uncover this and other chemical threats at airports.
An explosion aboard Flight 253 on Christmas Day would not have crippled the Boeing 747, according to a recent test that simulated the success of would-be bomber Umar Abdulmutallab. Only the bomber and passenger next to him would have died, the BBC reports.
Clearing battlefield obstacles has pitted trapper against sapper since Roman times. But whereas the minefields and dragon teeth of previous conflicts merely slowed advancing armies, the IEDs favored by today's insurgents have become the number one killer in the Long War. Now, to ensure safe passage through trap laden Afghan paths, the British Army is fighting fire with even bigger fire in the form of their newly developed Python explosive whip.
Given the events occurring above Detroit on Christmas Day, public faith in airport security and its ability to screen for 21st century threats isn't exactly peaking. Perhaps what the TSA really needs is a shot of German ingenuity. Researchers at brain trust Fraunhofer Gesellschaft have developed a network of "chemical noses" that can not only smell explosive chemicals hidden on a person, but identify the carrier even as he or she moves through a crowded space.
The explosive C4, a favorite for everything from demolition to terrorism to action movies, is in fact one of the safest explosives. How can an explosive be safe? If it's hard to set off by accident. C4 is so stable that you can light it with a match (it burns but does not explode) or shoot it (it splatters but does not explode). To go bang, it requires a detonator that produces both heat and shock.
At the other end of the spectrum are mixtures that ignite simply from being scratched or knocked. There are obvious challenges in mixing, storing, and handling these substances so that they explode only when intended, yet they're surprisingly common.