MadSci Network: Physics

Re: How many joules are produced by the explosion of one ton of TNT?

Area: Physics
Posted By: John Christie, Faculty, School of Physical Chemistry, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia
Date: Sun Mar 23 17:41:26 1997

This datum is not easily found in the standard Physics and Chemistry reference books. I acknowledge a debt to Terry Herter at Cornell, from whose WebPage lecture notes I have lifted a value of 4 * 10^9 joule, or 4 GJ (gigajoule).

1 ton of TNT is a large, but not huge amount of energy. Burning one tonne of gasoline will yield about 48 GJ. Manufacturing one tonne of aluminium requires about 40 GJ (over and above the energy content of the carbon electrodes which burn away). The energy content of the food an adult person consumes in a year is in the range 2 to 6 GJ. An average lightning stroke releases about 1.5 GJ.

When we scale the consideration up to a 10 megaton nuclear blast, we are looking on an energy scale ten million times larger. A 10 megaton nuclear blast releases an energy of 4 * 10^16 joule, or 40 PJ (petajoule). The famous Krakatoa volcanic explosion in the 1880s released about 150 PJ, or the equivalent of 40 megatons. The daily energy consumption in the US is probably around 400 PJ, or 100 megatons equivalent.

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