New ammonium nitrate regulations

Last Wednesday Bush signed into law a new restriction on our freedom which does nothing but create another bureaucracy. The Los Angles Times has a pretty good write up on it but the tone is “the Feds should have done more”:

Ammonium nitrate regulated — sort of

The fertilizer can be used in explosives. Some in law enforcement and counter-terrorism wanted much tighter controls than Congress passed.

More than 12 years after Timothy J. McVeigh used ammonium nitrate fertilizer to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building, Congress quietly passed legislation this month to regulate sales of the explosive.

But the Secure Handling of Ammonium Nitrate Act of 2007, part of an appropriations measure signed Wednesday by President Bush, falls far short of the strict law that some in the counter-terrorism community and federal law enforcement were hoping for.


Outside groups are asking for tougher action. “Congress simply didn’t understand what it was doing,” said Peter Stockton, senior investigator for one of the groups, the Project on Government Oversight, which is a watchdog on national security issues.

“Maybe they thought doing something was better than nothing.”

The text of the actual law is here. Assuming I’m reading the version of the bill that was actually signed there is an exemption for people with an explosives license (me). The biggest impact I see to most readers of this blog is that if you want to buy Target Master Exploding Targets or Tannerite maybe you should do it now. Both of those products use ammonium nitrate as their primary ingredient.

This law also affects farmers in a big way.

Under the new law you will be required to register with “Homeland Security” before you can manufacture, sell, or buy, AN. The seller will be required to maintain records. If anyone violates these new regulations they can be fined up to $50,000 per violation.

There will be regulations implemented which will provide “guidance” on storage and sales which of course will do nothing but harass the innocent. Just like the regulations on firearms do nothing the terrorists that want to do evil will steal their materials or use a strawman. Or if they are suicide bombers they will just go through the registration process and buy it just like legitimate users. It’s not that difficult to manufacture either. The chemical formula is NH4NO3. The elements to manufacture it can all be obtained from the air. Try regulating those precursor chemicals.

Like Stockton, above, I think they just wanted to “do something”. And as I pointed out in my QOTD today even “experts” (I hesitate to call anyone who works for the government an expert on anything other than government) don’t think it does anything for security. It’s nothing but more security theater for the masses.


5 thoughts on “New ammonium nitrate regulations

  1. Well, from looking at the way that the ATF determines that broken guns are machine guns, I guess a broken television with a nasty spark gap is going to be considered a backyard AN plant now.

  2. I suppose you’re all meant to feel so much safer after that:

    1) NH4NO3 alone is not an explosive, it needs intimate mixing with just the right ammount of “fuel”. A little too much and it looses power dramatically and gives clouds of black smoke, too little and it looses power dramatically and gives clouds of red fumes, a little outside those limits and it won’t go at all.

    2) The prills of agricultural ammonium nitrate are dense and relatively none absorbant, in order to resist moisture, stand up to being spread and to carry well when spread. For explosive, you need an absorbant prill, little problem there…

    3) unless you are able to produce an ANFO slurry or gel with just the right density, old fashioned prilled ANFO requires a minimum charge diameter of about 100mm to propogate the detonation. Actually getting the stuff to start to detonate typically requires a “booster” around the detonator consisting of about a pound of TNT, livened up a bit with something like PETN and more ammonium nitrate. Such things are of course available in the children’s section of all good department stores….

    4) Now to the density thing:
    All explosives have a maximum density, above which they will not detonate. Anfo is no exception. get that density wrong and you’ve got a heap of rose fertilizer mixed with oil…

    Interestingly farm yard muck and things like “night soil” are nitrogenous, and were the traditional source for nitrates, before the saltpetre deposist were found in Chile, then later the invention of the Haber process for synthesizing ammonia and nitric acid….

    Just wait ’til the politicos start controlling visits to the outhouse…


  3. 1) Actually it will explode without fuel. Just not as well. There are many examples.
    2) I have been using agricultural grade AN for Boomershoot since the beginning.
    3) We aren’t using ANFO but at Boomershoot we use targets that are boxes only about one inch (25.4mm) thick. There is no problem with detonation propagation. Our receipe doesn’t require anything particularily hard to obtain and is easily detonated with a rifle bullet.
    4) You are overstating things a bit. Nitroglycerin, for example, doesn’t have a maximum density issue. It also depends on the detonation mechanism. For most, but not all, situations with ANFO you are correct.

    You are correct about obtaining explosive materials from the barnyard. I’ve blogged about that before.

  4. I’d suspect that this person wasn’t really interested in you so much as trying to figure out precisely what just transpired. One of the sad results of the internet age (speaking as a lawyer) is that people seem to have lost the ability to do basic legal research and you often times find lawyers doing blanket searches on Google to figure out what the law states (or, more appropriately, a summary of what happened) and then transcribing most of that directly and taking credit for it.

    Its pretty obvious when it happens, especially when they use a site that gets things wrong (not that I am saying you got it wrong, just that they seem to find those sites more often that you would think).

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