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Current Use And Development Of Explosives

Explosives continue to have many important peacetime uses in fields like engineering, construction, mining, and quarrying. They propel rockets and space shuttles into orbit. Explosives are also used to bond different metals, like those in United States coins, together in a tight sandwich. Explosives carefully applied to carbon produce industrial diamonds for as cutting, grinding and polishing tools.

Today, dynamite is not used as often as it once was. Since 1955 different chemical explosives have been developed. A relatively new type of explosive, "slurry explosives," are liquid and can be poured into place. One popular explosive for industrial use is made from fertilizers like ammonium nitrate or urea, fuel oil, and nitric or sulfuric acid. This "ammonium nitrate-fuel oil" or ANFO explosive has replaced dynamite as the explosive of choice for many peacetime uses. An ANFO explosion, although potentially powerful and even devastating, detonates more slowly than an explosion of nitroglycerin or TNT. This creates more of an explosive "push" than a high velocity TNT blast. ANFO ingredients are less expensive than other explosives and approximately 25% more powerful than TNT. By 1995, sale of ANFO components were not regulated as TNT and dynamite were. Unfortunately, terrorists also began using bombs made from fertilizer and fuel oil. Two hundred forty-one marines were killed when a truck loaded with such an ANFO mixture exploded in their barracks in Beirut Lebanon in 1983. Six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured by a similar bombing in the World Trade Center in New York in 1993. In 1995, terrorists used the same type of explosive to kill more than 167 people in Oklahoma City.

Other explosives in use today include PETN (pentaerythrite tetranitrate), Cyclonite or RDX, a component of plastic explosives, and Amatol, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrite.

Nuclear explosives have evolved too. They are more compact than they were in the mid-part of the century. Today they fit into artillery shells and missiles launched from land vehicles. Weapons designers also have created "clean" bombs that generate little radioactive fallout and "dirty" bombs that generate more radioactive fallout than older versions. Explosions of "neutron" bombs have been designed to kill humans with neutron radiation but cause little damage to buildings compared to other nuclear explosives.



Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Stephenson, Michael, and Roger Hearn. The Nuclear Casebook. London: Frederick Muller Limited, 1983.


Treaster, Joseph B. "The Tools of a Terrorist: Everywhere for Anyone." The New York Times (April 20, 1995): B8.

Dean Allen Haycock


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Chemical explosive

—A substance that violently and rapidly releases chemical energy creating heat and often a shock wave generated by release of gases.


—A explosive made by impregnating an inert, absorbent substance with nitroglycerin or ammonium nitrate mixed with combustible substance, such as wood pulp, and an antacid.


—An explosive mixture of charcoal, potassium nitrate, and sulfur often used to propel bullets from guns and shells from cannons.


—An explosive liquid used to make dynamite. Also used as a medicine to dilate blood vessels.

Nuclear explosive

—Device which get its explosive force from the release of nuclear energy.


—Trinitrotoluene, a high explosive.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Evolution to FerrocyanideExplosives - History, Controlling Explosives, Newer Explosives, Types Of Explosives And Their Sources Of Power, Four Classifications Of Chemical Explosives