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Thursday, November 4, 1999 Published at 13:50 GMT


Shuttle fuel clears landmines

The units could be produced for $6 each

Scientists have developed a new method for clearing unexploded landmines using the leftover rocket fuel that powers the space shuttles.

The BBC's Sue Nelson: "Now the fuel is being used for more down to earth projects"
The propellant is packed into a small tube measuring about two centimetres by 12 cm and placed next to an uncovered mine. It is then ignited remotely with battery-triggered electric match.

This burns a hole in the mine's case, ignites its explosive contents which burn away.

The flare has been developed by Thiokol Propulsion, the contractor that builds the rocket motors for Nasa's space shuttles.

[ image: Leftover fuel materials would normally go to waste]
Leftover fuel materials would normally go to waste
Dr Carol Campbell, the company's humanitarian de-mining programme manager, says the device is clearly safer than hand deactivation and preferable to other methods that neutralise the mine with a destructive explosion.

"Surprisingly enough, the explosives in the mine tend only to burn out instead of detonate," she told the BBC.

Occasionally, the mine does detonate before all of the explosive is consumed. But even if this happens, says Dr Campbell, the explosion is more controlled and minimised, causing less damage than other mine disposal methods.

Dr Carol Campbell explains how the flare works
The US Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division has tested the device against a range of anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines, and a number of flares have now been despatched to Kosovo and to Jordan for further trials.

It is estimated that more than 80 million active landmines are scattered in 70 countries worldwide. Every month, more than 2,000 people are killed or maimed by these mine explosives. Most of the victims are civilians who are injured or killed after military hostilities have ended.

One of the major problems associated with the many, innovative mine clearance systems developed in recent years has been that of cost. Dr Campbell says the use of what is essentially a waste material means the Thiokol flare should become a cost-effective, practical tool to clear-up former war zones.

"An anti-personnel mine can be produced for as little as $3, but the cost of neutralising that same mine can range from a few hundred dollars to $1,000," she said. "We project the cost of our flare to be around $6."

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Internet Links

Thiokol Propulsion

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines

NGO Humanitarian Demining Activity Worldwide

Technical details on landmines

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