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Fast Facts: Explosives Missing

A glance at the destructive power of the nearly 380 tons of conventional explosives the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) says have gone missing from a former military installation in Iraq:


HMX: High melting explosives, as they are scientifically known, are among the most powerful in use by the world's militaries today. HMX, also known as octogen (search), is made from hexamine, ammonium nitrate, nitric acid and acetic acid. Because it detonates at high temperatures, it is used in various kinds of explosives, rocket fuels and burster chargers.


RDX: Also referred to as cyclonite or hexogen (search), RDX is a white crystalline solid usually used in mixtures with other explosives, oils or waxes. Rarely used alone, it has a high degree of stability in storage and is considered the most powerful of the high explosives used by militaries.


PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES: Experts say both HMX and RDX are key ingredients in plastic explosives such as Semtex (search) and C-4, puttylike military substances that easily can be shaped. Libyan terrorists used just 1 pound of Semtex in 1988 to down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

C-4 or its main ingredients were used in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors. Traces of RDX were found in an investigation of explosions that crippled two heavily fortified Israeli tanks, indicating Palestinian militants have obtained at least small quantities of the extremely potent material.

Just 5 pounds of either plastic explosive would be enough to blow up a dozen jetliners, experts say.


NUCLEAR USE: Experts say HMX can be used to create a highly powerful explosion with enough intensity to ignite the fissile material in an atomic bomb and set off a nuclear chain reaction.