Did You Hear Something?

By Kit Hayden | Dec 28, 2012
Photo by: us.cdn2.123rf.com

Newcastle — There was a brief article in a recent Lincoln County News regarding complaints about loud noises heard in Waldoboro.  The Knox County Sheriff’s Office learned from an anonymous informant that the source was explosions produced by Tannerite, probably detonated in gravel pits in the area.  Now, what would be the purpose of these explosions and what is Tannerite anyway?

I have ongoing curiosity about our penchant for guns and explosives, so I decided to pursue the matter.  No, this is not a bit about gun control; I won’t go near that controversy since I’m reasonably certain that it is as impossible to control guns as it is to stop drug trafficking.  Can’t be done; people love to shoot and get high.  Accept that.

Tannerite is the trademark of a patented ammonium nitrate/aluminum powder binary explosive, the last meaning that it needs a second agent in order to explode.  Thus it is, by itself, highly stable which is probably the reason that control agencies such as ATF turn a blind eye to its sale and use.  Therefore it is readily available at relatively low cost.  You can pick up a twenty-pack of half pound containers for just seventy bucks at your friendly Sears store.  Why bother?

Tannerite blocks are used primarily for target shooting.  When hit by a high velocity projectile they explode with lots of smoke and noise.  Wikipedia offers the lame explanation that this is desirable in long range target practice since the shooter doesn’t have to make an exhausting trek to see if he’s hit what he was aiming at.  He can tell by the explosion.  Naw! That’s not the reason. Who wants to leave a little hole in something when he can generate a huge explosion?  Much funner!

It’s even more enjoyable if you place the Tannerite in a car or truck and blow that up.  Shades of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest where car mashing by high velocity pumpkins is always a big crowd pleaser.  Everybody loves to wreck cars or at least see them destroyed.  Wikipedia cites a case in Minnesota where a “man was fined $2,583 (?) and sentenced to three years' probation on charges of detonating an explosive device and unlawful possession of components for explosives after he detonated 100 lb (45 kg) of Tannerite inside the bed of a dump truck by shooting it with a .50 BMG from 300 yards on January 14, 2008 in Red Wing MN (whew!). The blast could be felt at Prairie Island Nuclear Plant (roughly 5 miles away). In case you’re wondering what a .50 BMG is: fifty caliber Browning machine gun.  So he sprayed the truck with a machine gun, Wow!  Well, no, I think he just used the slug in a rifle.  You may also wonder why he was charged.  It seems he was on probation and forbidden to possess firearms or explosives; otherwise it would have been OK.

YouTube has a host of offerings on Tannerite, both preparation and application.  I found the one instructing us on preparation from instant coldpack ingredients especially interesting.  It is presented by THEMANSCAVE.COM.  Our narrator points out that you can buy the coldpacks from Wal-Mart’s or Walgreen’s, two packages to a box.  These provide the ammonium nitrate.  The video demonstrates how the packages can be opened with scissors and combined to provide the equivalent of a half pound shotpack.  Add a teaspoon of aluminum powder, readily available, shake the bag to coat the nitrate pellets with the powder, and seal.  This can be a bit messy and our instructor apologizes for not having a Ziploc bag.  (You can’t think of everything.)  Hey!  This is more fun than meth!  Next, to the gravel pit with rifle to test the recipe.  One pack explodes, the other does not.  It turns out that Wal-Mart doesn’t use aluminum nitrate in their coldpacks, the varlets.  So be sure that you read the ingredients before you make your purchase (if you can read)!  The boys doing the experiment were pleased with the crater they produced.  I was a little disappointed; I would have used more ingredient.

Incidentally, the MN explosion was captured on video and can be seen on YouTube, replete with the rebel yells of the onlookers.  It turns out that the episode gained wide exposure, even to Homeland Security, because it set off a high alert at the nuclear plant.

I wish I could take these things more seriously.  No, no I don’t.  By the way, if you live in Waldoboro you might want to check that your pickup’s not missing.

And not to be a complete wet blanket, Tannerite can be useful in avalanche prevention.  Got any snow-laden hills around?  Go for it.

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