3 December 2023

plutonium atom is a chemical element belonging to the actinide metals whose atomic number is 94 on the periodic table. This element is the heaviest among the most stable isotopes. This element was first synthesized by the team of Glenn Seaborg and Edwin McMillan in 1940, while they were bombarding a uranium isotope with deuterium. Thanks to this finding, it was possible to use it for the development of nuclear technology.

If you are interested in the field of chemistry and want to know more about what is plutonium, what are its characteristics, its role in the industry, its importance, where it can be found and what are the consequences of using this element. Here we teach you.

What is plutonium used for?

plutonium is a radioactive transuranium element that serves more than anything for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Due to the fact that it is prone to chain reactions, releasing energy, neutrons and gamma energy. Each of its isotopes is often used for a different purpose, for example, plutonium-238 is used within nuclear plants in order to produce energy through a nuclear reaction. It is also the source of thermal and electrical energy in the batteries that are in airplanes and spacecraft.

On the other hand, the isotope plutonium-239 It is used in the creation of weapons. For example, for the construction of the ‘Fat Man’ type bombs, this being the atomic bomb that detonated in the Nagasaki prefecture in Japan in 1945. To make them, they replaced the TNT with plutonium so that, with less quantity, it would have better performance. .

Likewise, plutonium is also used as a nuclear fuel capable of mixing components in their oxidation state.

Where is plutonium found?

plutonium can be found on land or in water, since it tends to adhere to soil or rock sediments. It is very common for them to be found naturally within uranium mines. You can even find certain plutonium residues attached to this element.

What are the characteristics of plutonium?

  • Plutonium appears shiny with a grayish hue.
  • It is not a good conductor of heat or electricity unlike most metals.
  • Its melting point is quite low, being at 640 °C.
  • It was synthesized in 1940. However, years later its presence was discovered inside a uranium mine.
  • Have a high boiling pointwhich is approximately at 3,228 °C.
  • It is one of the three primary fissile isotopes, which is why it is so widely used in nuclear technology.
  • Plutonium is one of the few elements that increases its density by 2.5% when it melts
  • When near its melting point, plutonium experiences surface tension and viscosity quite high when compared to other metallic elements.
  • has six allotropes, coming to form a seventh if it is in a certain condition. For this, it must be at a high temperature and with a limited pressure range.
  • Due to the presence of allotropes of plutonium, this causes it to be very difficult to machine due to the fact that it can change states very easily.
  • Its phase diagram is very complicated, the reason is still not well known, since, It is not considered as an unstable element.
  • It’s a actinide metalthat is, it is part of period 7 of the periodic table.
  • It has the ability to form a critical mass, in other words, it has the minimum amount of material necessary for a nuclear chain reaction to be sustained.
  • Despite its stability, it has considerably high radioactivity.
  • can form four oxidation states, three in aqueous solution and one unusual.
  • It is considered one of the most complex elements, since it its electronic structure is unusual. Plutonium is an element that has its valence electrons in the 5f orbital, so they are in a transition between localized and delocalized. This feature is responsible for its anomalous behavior.
  • plutonium it is a flammable element. Even in humid environments, it can form pyrophoric hydrides, which makes it ignitable at room temperature.

What color is plutonium?

Plutonium is a metallic element whose color it is white with silver sparkles, very similar to nickel. In nature, it is mostly found surrounded by other substances, so its hue can vary a bit, even being found in yellowish and olive-green tones. However, when it is produced inside nuclear reactors, it can be observed in a dull gray, thanks to its rapid oxidation.

What country is the plutonium from?

plutonium it is very rare in nature. However, traces of it can be found where there are some decomposition products or in uranium mines. For example, in the natural nuclear reactor that exists in Oklo, Gabon (in Africa), it is one of the places that this metal has been found naturally.

Similarly, at the uranium deposit of Cigar Lake Mine (Canada), traces of the plutonium-239 isotope have been found. The presence of plutonium in meteorites has also been found.

What are the consequences of using plutonium?

The main consequences of handling plutonium are cancer diseases. Being the lungs, the liver and the bones, the parts of the organism most commonly affected by the radiation that expels this metallic element.

However, these consequences are considered to only occur when manipulated directly with plutonium, as would be the case of plant workers or those in charge of extracting it from natural mines. Therefore, the population should not worry about direct exposure to this element, due to the fact that it is very rare.

However, the misuse of this element, if it can harm an entire population. A few years ago, thanks to the misuse of plutonium, there was a crisis in Japan, where the effects of plutonium on human health were being witnessed. This is because traces of radioactive plutonium were found in the soil of Fukushima due to the collapse of a nuclear power plant.

Why is plutonium dangerous?

plutonium it is a toxic, dangerous and radioactive element, emitting alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Which, depending on whether there was direct contact with the element, can cause acute radiation poisoning or directly death. Likewise, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) together with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that plutonium exposure causes cancer.

However, this probability will depend more than anything on how long a person is exposed to it, due to the fact that plutonium remains in the body and can’t be thrown away no way.

Therefore, if your exposure to plutonium was prolonged, it is most likely that in a few years you will develop this type of disease. However, the levels to which most people, other than plant workers, are exposed is too low an amount, so does not tend to have some kind of consequence In the health.

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