4
Rendering Explosive Materials Inert

INTRODUCTION

Many common chemicals have the potential to be used as explosives in terrorist bombs (Oxley, 1993, 1997). One approach to making the terrorist's job more difficult is to desensitize or render inert explosive chemicals that can be directly mixed and then made to detonate. A desensitized mixture can be more difficult to initiate (cause to explode) or may explode with a dramatically reduced energy output. A material that is difficult to initiate also requires a more energetic initiation scheme. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, desensitization renders a material inert or unable to detonate. Desensitization cannot eliminate the threat posed by illegal bomb making and use, but it places a heavier burden on the terrorist, thus increasing the chances that he will fail or be caught.

Criteria for an Ideal Inerting Method or Technology

The criteria for an ideal inerting method, which parallel and expand on items in the committee's statement of task (Appendix B), include those described below. In practice each would carry a different weight.

  • Is effective in preventing use of the chemical as an illegal explosive. The ideal inerting method is capable of preventing an explosion when the inerted chemical is intimately mixed with other materials (oxidizers or fuels) chosen to provide the correct reaction stoichiometry. The chemical, mixed with other



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