It Almost Went BOOM!

How big a boom can a pound of C-4 make?

We’ve all seen C4-type explosives in movies: a hunk of putty-like stuff that the hero (or the bad guy) carries around, puts in a strategic location, inserts a detonator (probably attached to a timer), and, a few frames later, BOOM. We somehow learn from the movies that the C-4 is not particularly dangerous until the detonator sets it off.

A DOE “Notice of Violation” presents a picture of a Sandia employee holding in his hand a 1-pound block of C-4 with a detonator embedded in it. If that were you or me, we would be darn sure the detonator could not go off, right? If it did, the results for both us and the building would not be pretty.

The employee removed the detonator from the C-4. But then an “unexpected initiation” of the detonator occurred! The result was a serious hand injury. If the “unexpected initiation” had occurred a few minutes earlier, while the detonator was still in the C-4, much more than the hand would have been injured.

Besides possibly nominating the worker for a Darwin award, you have to wonder: what safety procedures were being followed? What other things in the building might have exploded if the C-4 had been detonated? How safe are the other Sandia employees or even the citizens of Albuquerque?

The tip of the iceberg?

In investigating this and another “incident”, DOE noted “several similarities to previous incidents” and concluded that Sandia’s previous corrective actions were not effective. Really?

Details, in DOE-speak, at

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