Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sympathetic Detonation

A sympathetic detonation, also called flash over, is a detonation, usually unintended, of an explosive charge by a nearby explosion. Sympathetic detonation is caused by a shock wave, or impact of primary or secondary blast fragments.

The initiating explosive is called donor explosive, the initiated one is known as receptor explosive. In case of a chain detonation, a receptor explosive can become a donor one.

The shock sensitivity, also called gap sensitivity, which influences the susceptibility to sympathetic detonations, can be measured by gap tests.

If detonators with primary explosives are used, the shock wave of the initiating blast may set off the detonator and the attached charge. However even relatively insensitive explosives can be set off if their shock sensitivity is sufficient. Depending on the location, the shock wave can be transported by air, ground, or water. The process is probabilistic, a radius with 50% probability of sympathetic detonation often being used for quantifying the distances involved.

Sympathetic detonation presents problems in storage and transport of explosives and ordnance. Sufficient spacing between adjacent stacks of explosive materials has to be maintained. In case of an accidental detonation of one charge, other ones in the same container or dump can be detonated as well, but the explosion should not spread to other storage units. Special containers attenuating the shock wave can be used to prevent the sympathetic detonations; epoxy-bonded pumice liners were successfully tested. Blow-off panels may be used in structures, e.g. tank ammunition compartments, to channel the explosion overpressure in a desired direction to prevent a catastrophic failure.

Other factors causing unintended detonations are e.g. flame spread, heat radiation, and impact of shrapnels.

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