Reply To: Big Boom Beirut.
The report that it was a sodium nitrate explosion is definitely not the whole story. Without a ‘fuel’, sodium nitrate is almost completely inert, It is even quite hard to make it detonate using heat alone. However mix it with something like solvents or a flammable gas and it is as dangerous as hell.
Looking at the Guardian clip there is the characteristic orange ‘smoke’ of nitrogen dioxide immediately before the explosion, so sodium nitrate was probably involved but something else supplied the fuel which caused it to detonate.
This article confirms my suspicion that a lot of other things must have gone wrong at the same time.