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Monday 18.06.2018 | Name days: Madis, Alberts

Fertilizers transforming into explosives

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September 1, 2011, the portal of Austrian news agency BNN (Baltic News Network) GmbH published a press release “STORAGE AND HANDLING OF AMMONIUM SALTPETER OF ALL KINDS IN RIGA FREE PORT – A TICKING TIME BOMB.” Today we start publishing a journalistic research project on the subject.

Part one.


Decision taken in 370 seconds

July 26, 2011, Riga City Council members decided “On agreement regarding construction of handling and short-term storage terminal of mineral fertilizers in Kundziņsala”. The inspiring report by Andis Cinis, the Head of Riga City Construction Board, lasted for 2 minutes and 18 seconds, while only Dainis Stalts from “Democratic Patriots” wanted to say something in the so-called debate announced by Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs. During Stalts 1 minute and 3 seconds long speech, he claimed that all members of the Committee of City Development approve of the terminal construction. He also said that Riga Free Port has to develop and that inhabitants of Kundziņsala yearn for the “Riga Fertilizer Terminal” as well. However, he added that the health of the people is the top priority.

The discussion was followed by a 15 seconds long voting, with 49 of 60 deputies of the Riga City Council being present. 45 of them voted for construction of the new terminal, three abstained, with only one person voting against. The whole decision-taking process took 6 minutes and 10 seconds. Quite fast, right? But why should they hesitate if two weeks before the meeting, the public relations officer Viktors Daugmalis informed the news agency BND that the new terminal would bring the city 30 000 lats in taxes (real estate tax and land tax) yearly. Re-loading and storage of mineral fertilizers is expected to boost capital of the city by 1.4 million lats each year. Annual 20 million lats would also go to the state budget of Latvia. Moreover, 150 new jobs make the planned income even more significant. Construction costs total 70 million dollars (more than 34 million lats). 51% of the new company would belong to the Russian holding “Uralhim” («Уралхим») and 49% – to the Latvian company SIA „Rīgas tirdzniecības osta”. Thus, the necessary votes were collected easily. Now we know the price of the issue. Let’s keep it in mind in order to return to it in further parts of our research.

What is in store for Riga?

Riga City Council has approved 2 000 000 tons of mineral fertilizers being re-loaded and transported via the city center yearly. In terms of proportions, 350 000 tons go for diammonium phosphate, 600 000 tons – for carbamide and 1 050 000 tons – for ammonium saltpeter of three kinds. Ammonium saltpeter cargoes will make up 52.5% of the whole terminal capacity. In addition, it is allowed to store 40 000 tons of diammonium phosphate, 50 000 tons of carbamide and 90 000 of ammonium saltpeter. It is also planned to build 8 warehouses – six with the total space of 25 000 cubic meters and two – 15 000 cubic meters. This means the terminal will be able to receive as many as 180 000 tons of fertilizers at once. The warehouses would look similar to these:

Length of the ferry showed in the picture and length of the tow can be up to 195 m, width – up to 22 m, draught – up to 13 meters and the load capacity - 58 000 tons of mineral fertilizers. The view would entertain inhabitants of Kundziņsala every 10 days.

Mineral fertilizers will arrive to the terminal by rail from the train station “Šķirotava” via Ķengarags, “Zemitāni” under the VEF bridge and from “Brasa” to Sarkandaugava, where it would enter “Riga – Preču” train station and then travel directly to Kundziņsala. Capacity of a single wagon is estimated to hit 65 tons of mineral fertilizers. 60 wagons in total are expected to make up a single freight train. Moreover, 512 trains of maximum load capacity are needed to deliver 2 000 000 tons of mineral fertilizers. It means 1-2 trains with 3900-7800 tons of mineral fertilizers would run via Riga daily. Starting from here we are going to analyze only the notorious ammonium saltpeter.

The map of Kundziņsala

Here it is – the irregular almost rectangle area for re-loading and storage of ammonium saltpeter in the Northern part of the island. And what a great neighbour it has! There is only 600 m distance to the Voleri borough located on the left bank of the River Daugava. Add some 100 meters more and you will reach „Baltic Container Terminal”. This terminal is allowed to handle all dangerous cargoes, except for radioactive and bacteriological products. In a 1 km distance, there is Vecmīlgrāvis, the housing area of Kundziņsala, while Tvaika and Ezera Streets are located in a 1.5 km distance. More or less the same distance also separates the new terminal and the one for“Latvijas propāna gāze”, which manages depositories of liquefied gas – 175 cubic meters each. Terminal for re-loading of oil products –“Woodison terminal” is also near. In 300 meters, there is another similar terminal “Man-Tess”. And the fact that overnight from July 22 and July 23, 2009, 17 tons of hydrogen cyanide leaked from the terminal seems to be a “usual thing” here – just as Karlsson used to say to the Little Brother. In addition, the rescue team learnt about the accident only in the morning. 1ml/g of hydrogen cyanide is a lethal dose (LD) for a human being. At that time, hundreds of people were evacuated not only from Kundziņsala, but also from Voleri and Krēmeri, other nearby territories. As a result, swimming and fishing were banned in the River Daugava.

But don’t worry! According to Riga City Council’s decision, the terminal with the enormous volume of ammonium saltpeter is absolutely safe in any catastrophes that could strike gas and oil terminals.

Ammonium saltpeter and terrorism threat

Ammonium saltpeter aka ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound NH4NO3, a nitric acid salt. Johann Rudolf Glauber, German doctor and alchemist, was the first to obtain it back in 1659. Afterwards people were using it as an agricultural fertilizer for centuries. However, in the 20th century new “alchemists” appeared. They mixed saltpeter with diesel fuel and obtained ANFO – an explosive used in mining and construction industry. Efficiency of ANFO explosion equals to 80% of trinitrotoluol. Add some 15% of tolite and 4.5% of aluminum powder to 80.5% of ammonium saltpeter and you will obtain tolite.

Wise terrorists go even further and make the whole process cheaper – they substitute tolite with coal, while ammonium saltpeter still remains the main component. It is widely used in many occasions, starting from self-made large-scale bombs to waist belts of Shahids. Ammonium saltpeter is used as an explosive all over the world – from USA to India and the Philippines.

Most terrible terrorist attacks before September 11 events hit the Oklahoma City in 1995. The attack was aimed at a building hosting public administration offices – the Office controlling the law of spirits, tobacco, weapons and explosives, FBI, Office of anti-drugs, USA Secret Service and the USA Marshall Service. A mined car full with nearly 2.5 tons of ammonium saltpeter exploded near it.

2.3 tons of trinitrotoluol ensured the huge explosion. People say it was possible to hear it in a 90 km distance. Meanwhile seismographs located 7 km from the epicenter fixed 3 balls according to Richter’s Scale. The explosion left a natural 9m wide and 2.4m deep crater. The total death toll hit 169 persons, including 19 children, with more than 680 persons injured. 324 buildings in a radius of 16 blocks where destroyed or seriously damaged, windows shattered in the radius of 4.5 km and 86 cars were no longer drivable. Total damages were estimated to hit around 652 million USD.

This is what 2.5 tons of ammonium saltpeter left from the Oklahoma City.

Nevertheless, the American tragedy is no phenomenon at all. On July 13, 2011, the Turkish newspaper “Milliyet” announced that the Secret Service had arrested 14 members of the terrorist organization “Al Qaeda”. The grouping was ready to revenge for the death of bin Laden. American soldiers and diplomats were chosen as the target. To demonstrate their hate, the terrorists used explosives made of 700 kg ammonium saltpeter. It is the same substance that was also used by terrorists in Istanbul back in 2003, leaving 60 persons dead and numerous badly injured.

Norway was about to face what was not rounded up in Turkey. In late July, 2011, a terrorist named Andres Bering Breivik blew up a building in the governmental block in Oslo with a bomb made on the basis of ammonium saltpeter and diesel fuel. 8 persons were killed and 15 injured.

Saltpeter was also purchased by a terrorist in Poland.

Governmental building in the capital of Norway after the explosion.

However, ammonium saltpeter is used for such purposes not only in countries far away from Latvia. It was also used in explosions in Moscow subway and the airport, on Pushkin’s Square as well as in the train accident near St. Petersburg. This month, the Russian Secret Service detained members of the terrorist organization “Imarat Kavkaz” in the territory of Bashkiristan. They had made bombs of ammonium saltpeter to blow up a police office building in the Oktyabrskij city and cars of those involved in anti-extremism. A bomb equivalent to 100 kg of tolite was neutralized in Hasaviurt, a city in Daghestan.

This car full with saltpeter was parked near a major shopping centre “Kirgu”.

The detained North- Caucasian terrorists confessed that they had been up to put the explosive in the way of high-speed Moscow – St. Petersburg train. It was possible to purchase ammonium saltpeter on a regular market of industrial goods.

Tomorrow, September 6, 2011, the news agency BNN GmbH will publish continuation of the research divided into the following sections:

= Ammonium saltpeter and incidents;

= Ammonium saltpeter and power here and there;

= There are questions but no answers.

Leave a reply

  1. Vilks says:

    Looks like massive explosion expects Riga. Are policy makers really ready to take a responsibility like that??? Seems that they are not sane..

  2. Christopher says:

    I had never thought mineral fertilisers can be THAT dangerous…

  3. not important says:

    Riga City Council – where “amazing” happens
    “amazing” = sh@$

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