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Pentagon's 'Holy Grail': A Bomb You Can't Blow

Scientists test different types of ammonium nitrate fertilizer
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2013 2:06 PM CDT

(Newser) – Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is necessary in Afghanistan and Pakistan to keep people from starving—but it's also a primary ingredient in more than 60% of bombs made by the Taliban. To find a solution to the conundrum, Pentagon scientists are searching for what the Washington Post describes as a "Holy Grail": fertilizer that won't detonate. The Post follows lead scientist Bob Best, 61, as he experiments—unsuccessfully—with a supposedly less-explosive fertilizer.

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Sandia National Laboratories announced earlier this year that it had discovered an additive that would lessen the blast power without hurting crop yields. Best made one bomb with traditional fertilizer (bombs like this kill with energy waves, not shrapnel) and one with the Sandia fertilizer, then blew them both up at his test range in Washington. Unfortunately, the Sandia mix didn't live up to the hype: The bomb blew a hole straight through the steel plate on which it had been placed. And, though the impact was lessened a bit, "we still have a guy in a body bag," Best says. (Read more ammonium nitrate stories.)

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