Magazine article The Spectator

Explosive Issue

Magazine article The Spectator

Explosive Issue

Article excerpt

Sir: You will be tempted to commission another exhibition of panicked paranoia from Melanie Phillips or another hysterical hackette ('Gaza is another front in Iran's war on the West', 23 June).

Would it not be a more effective blow against terrorists to ridicule those who thought that the limo-bomb of petrol and gas cylinders could ever work? To believe it displays an understanding of the physical universe scarcely worthy even of a PPE undergraduate.

Petrol is not explosive and propane is not explosive; what is explosive is a mixture of these with air, within narrow composition limits (2-9 per cent by volume for propane, rather less for petrol vapour). Large volumes (the car 'bombs' specified hundreds of cubic metres) of such uniform mixture will not form spontaneously under any normal ventilation conditions.

Just as a flooded engine will not start, so an equilibrium mixture of petrol vapour and air, established in a closed car boot, will not ignite: it is too rich. …

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