Monday, October 25, 2004


Nick Confessore of The American Prospect Online has friends that can do math -- scary, scary math.
Most people have probably never heard of RDX, HMX, and PETN, the types of explosives that were looted from al Qaqaa. (Neither did I until I started researching this recently.) Depending on how you ask, these are either the most powerful or among the most powerful conventional explosives that exist. So how much boom do you get for 380 tons of the stuff?

My friend and fellow blogger Phillip Carter, a former Army captain, e-mails with an attempt at a back-of-the-envelope calculation, using a "how many Oklahoma City bombings" metric. Here's the result:
OK City = 5,000 pounds/2,300 kg of ammonium-nitrate and nitromethane. This mix has a TNT equivalent ranging from 3%-10%, i.e. the OK City bomb is the equivalent of 150 - 500 pounds of TNT.

AQQ = 380 tons of RDX, HMX and PETN. RDX and PETN have a TNT equivalent value of 170%. Converted into TNT, the AQQ stockpile equals 646 tons or 1,292,000 pounds of explosives.

Convert this back into my OK City metric, and this means that the lost material at AQQ equals betwen 2,584 - 8,613 OK City-size bombs.

That's one hell of a lot of material to be on the street -- enough to fuel a car-bomb and IED-based insurgency for years, if not decades.
Chilling thought. Even if the order of magnitude is off by, say, two decimal places.
Has algebra ever been so depressing?

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