Semtex

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Samples of semtex and other plastic explosives

Semtex is a general-purpose plastic explosive containing RDX and PETN.<ref>Explosives - Compositions, Semtex</ref> It is used in commercial blasting, demolition, and in certain military applications. Semtex became notoriously popular with terrorists because it was, until recently, extremely difficult to detect,<ref>Schubert, Hiltmar. Detection of Explosives and Landmines: Methods and Field Experience. pp. 93–101 ISBN 1-4020-0692-6</ref> as in the case of Pan Am Flight 103.

For its original military use it was manufactured under the name B 1. It has been manufactured under its current name since 1964,Unknown extension tag "ref" labeled as SEMTEX 1A, since 1967 as SEMTEX H and since 1987 as SEMTEX 10.

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Composition

The composition of the two most common variants differ according to their use. The 1A (or 10) variant is used for blasting, and is based mostly on crystalline PETN. The version 1AP and 2P are formed as hexagonal booster charges; a special assembly of PETN and wax inside the charge assures high reliability for detonating cord or detonator. The H (or SE) variant is intended for explosion hardening.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Composition of SemtexTemplate:Citation needed
compound Semtex 1A Semtex H Semtex 2P
PETN 76% 40.9% 58.45%
RDX 4.6% 41.2% 22.9%
binder styrene-butadiene 9.4% 9% 9.2%
plasticizer n-octyl phthalate, tributyl citrate 9% 7.9% 8.45%
antioxidant N-phenyl-2-naphthylamine 0.5% 0.5% 0.5%
Dye 0.5% Sudan IV (reddish brown to red) 0.5% Sudan I (red-orange to yellow) (brown)

History

Semtex was invented in the late 1950s by Stanislav Brebera, a chemist at VCHZ Synthesia, Czechoslovakia. The explosive is named after Semtín, a suburb of Pardubice in the Czech Republic where the mixture was first manufactured starting in 1964.<ref name="history" /> The plant was later renamed to become Explosia a.s., a subsidiary of Synthesia.<ref>A Brief History of Explosia a.s. in Data</ref>

Semtex was very similar to other plastic explosives, especially C-4, in that it was easily malleable; but it was usable over a greater temperature range than other plastic explosives, as it stays plastic between −40 and +60 °C; it is also waterproof. There are also visual differences: whereas C-4 is off-white in colour, Semtex is red or brick-orange.

The new explosive was widely exported, notably to the government of North Vietnam, which received 14 tons during the Vietnam War. However, the main consumer was Libya; about 700 tons of Semtex were exported to Libya between 1975 and 1981 by Omnipol. It has also been used by Islamic militants in the Middle East and by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Irish National Liberation Army in Northern Ireland.<ref>Brown, G.I. (1998) The Big Bang: a History of Explosives Sutton Publishing ISBN 0-7509-1878-0 p.165</ref>

Exports fell after the name became closely associated with terrorist attacks. Export of Semtex was progressively tightened and since 2002 all of Explosia's sales have been controlled by a government ministry.<ref>Arie Farnam, "Czechs try to cap plastic explosives sales", Christian Science Monitor, 26 February 2002</ref> Template:As of, approximately only 10 tons of Semtex were produced annually, almost all for domestic use.<ref name="history" />

Also in response to international agreements, Semtex has a detection taggant added to produce a distinctive vapor signature to aid detection. First, ethylene glycol dinitrate was used, later switched to 2,3-dinitro-2,3-dimethylbutane (3,4-dinitrohexane, DMDNB) or p-mononitrotoluene, which is used currently. According to the manufacturer, the taggant agent was voluntarily being added by 1991, years before the protocol signed became compulsory.<ref name="history" /> Batches of Semtex made before 1990, however, are untagged, though it is not known whether there are still major stocks of such old batches of Semtex. The shelf life of Semtex was reduced from 10 years before the 1990s to five years now. Explosia states that there is no compulsory tagging allowing reliable post-detonation detection of a certain plastic explosive (such as incorporating a unique metallic code into the mass of the explosive), so Semtex is not tagged in this way.<ref name=explosia>"Ten Mistakes in Causa SEMTEXT"</ref>

On May 25, 1997, Bohumil Šole, a scientist often said to have been involved with inventing Semtex, strapped the explosive to his body and committed suicide in the Priessnitz spa of Jeseník.<ref>Sieveking, Paul. Strange Deaths: More Than 375 Freakish Fatalites, Barnes & Noble, 2000, pg. 88. ISBN 0-7607-1947-0</ref> Šole, 63, was being treated there for depression. Twenty other people were hurt in the explosion, while six were seriously injured. According to the manufacturer, Explosia, he was not a member of the team that developed the explosive.

Notes

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References

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External links

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