Pyrotechnics expert explains what caused Beirut explosion

5 August 2020, 17:05

Pyrotechnic expert explains how Beirut explosion happened

By Seán Hickey

This explosives expert went into the science of how the massive explosion in Beirut port occurred.

Dr Roy Lowry specialises in explosives at the University of Plymouth and was speaking to Ian Payne about how the explosion in Beirut port may have come about.

Dr Lowry confirmed that we're "not at the stage of dotting I's and crossing T's," but it is fair to assume that "2,750 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate," that had been stored in the port of the Lebanese capital is the reason for the disaster.

He went on to say that the ammonium nitrate is "a shipload that had been confiscated and stored in the warehouse," and had stayed there for six years before yesterday's explosion.

Dr Lowry told Ian that ammonium nitrate is predominately used as fertiliser, to which Ian wondered how a fertiliser could cause such an explosion.

He explained that it is a tertiary explosive and "in order to get them to explode, they need to be hit by a supersonic shockwave," which he thought came from the initial sparks seen in videos online.

An explosion at Beirut port shocked the world on Tuesday
An explosion at Beirut port shocked the world on Tuesday. Picture: No credit

The explosives expert told Ian that the first smaller explosions are "what kicks off the ammonium nitrate," and what causes the cloud, that many were shocked at the sight of in viral videos.

He explained the reason behind the massive cloud we saw in videos is because "the explosion happens so fast it forces the air to move supersonically," which was the cause for windows kilometres away from the site to smash.

Listen to Dr Lowry's full explanation above.