Wikipedia's article on nitrogen triiodide $\ce{NI3}$ claims that

Nitrogen triiodide is also notable for being the only known chemical explosive that detonates when exposed to alpha particles and nuclear fission products

referring to the article published 60 years ago [1]. Are there any other examples of chemical explosives capable of that discovered afterwards, or is it still a prerogative of nitrogen triiodide?


  1. Bowden F. P.; Young D. A. The Initiation of Explosion by Neutrons, α-Particles and Fission Products. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A. Mathematical and Physical Sciences 1958, 246 (1245), 216–219. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspa.1958.0123.
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Meh, even IR may lead to explosion blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2013/01/09/… $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Mithoron The effect mentioned in this blog is thermal (a Raman laser is rather high-power). Not what the question and the paper cited in it is about. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 22:41

1 Answer 1


(not really an answer here, but anyway ...) I would suspect any highly sensitive explosive is theoretically capable to do that, possibly depending on how close you are to the point where it would just thermally explode. They checked "Crystals of lead azide, silver azide, cadmium azide, silver acetylyde and nitrogen iodide" in the paper cited above. The four with heavy metal ions don't work, I guess it makes some sense that those can (better) absorb a very local energy surge like from an alpha particle.

My list of suspects would thus include organic ozonides, peroxides, azides, tetrazoles and other compounds that only contain CNOH. Number 1: solid $\ce{H2O2}$.

And basically anything that is known to sometimes explode without an obvious external triggering event.

  • $\begingroup$ Or perhaps it requires more than a single particle - a certain minimum radiation density. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterMortensen But then you are close to a thermal effect again, except if it's sth like "two incidents within 10 ns and 2 nm". Or an accumulating effect. But without an actual example, that's pure conjecture. Educated wild guessing. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterMortensen Not perhaps, but obviously, And I don't see such suggestion in answer $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithoron Why shouldn't a single alpha particle be able to trigger a runaway decomposition reaction? $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 22:39

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