The missing Iraqi explosives cache was huge, huge, huge — 380 tons is the estimate I keep seeing. But what was it? See, that’s where it gets even better. According to analysis found here, the material lifted at AQQ (RDX, HMX, and PETN) is among the most potent conventional stuff that exists, representing (by weight) 170% of the explosive power of an equivalent mass of TNT (if I understand correctly). It took less than a pound of this sort of thing to shatter Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, according to the NYT coverage.
To compare this to something we can actually grok, consider that the Murrah Building bomb was about 5,000 pounds of ammonium-nitrate-based explosives. That stuff isn’t nearly as good as Alfred Nobel’s baby, working at 3%-10% of the same mass of the good stuff, so say the Murrah was 150 to 500 pounds of TNT.
The missing explosives are the equivalent of 646 tons of TNT. Time to quote:
Convert this back into my OK City metric, and this means that the lost material at AQQ equals betwen 2,584 – 8,613 OK City-size bombs. That’s one hell of a lot of material to be on the street — enough to fuel a car-bomb and IED-based insurgency for years, if not decades.
Oh boy. But it gets better. (And by “better” I mean “worse”.) Not only is a shitload of this stuff presumably readibly available to use against our men and women on the ground over there, but it’s really compact, high-density stuff. I’m a long way from any real math, but it sounds to me like it’s amost twice as powerful by weight. If Murrah was accomplishable with (split the range) 325 pounds of TNT, then (at 170%) you can do the same trick with less than 200 pounds of the AQQ stockpile. Put another way, you can do your own Iraqi Murrah job with a motorcycle and a sidecar. Or a mule. Or a four-wheeler.
(If anyone has any more direct knowledge of explosive power, the Murrah bomb, conversions, or anything else, please feel free to email or comment; I’m a sucker for accuracy.)