Periodic Table -> Plutonium


Plutonium Details

Plutonium Symbol: Pu

Plutonium Atomic Number: 94

Plutonium Atomic Weight: (242)

What is Plutonium?

Plutonium (number 94, symbol Pu) is a radioactive element that is artificially produced and is present in some uranium ores. Its processing is difficult because of the presence of many allotropes. Plutonium enters the environment through release from weapon production facilities, nuclear reactors, and research laboratories. It is also accidentally released during the disposal of radioactive waste, transportation, and use. The release of plutonium in the environment results in soil and water contamination. Low concentrations are also absorbed by plants.

The element was discovered by Edward McMillan, Joseph Kennedy, and Glenn Seaborg in 1941. They used deuterons, which are nuclei of deuterium, to bombard uranium-238. The reaction created free neutrons and an isotope of neptunium, neptunium-238. The isotope decayed through emission of beta particles into plutonium-238. Scientists considered names such as extremium and ultimium, but the element was named after Pluto, a dwarf planet in our Solar System.

Plutonium-244 is the most stable isotope of the element. It decays into uranium-244 through emission of alpha particles and through spontaneous fission. There are 11 isotopes in total, including plutonium-236, plutonium-246, and others. The element has 6 known allotropes which differ in crystal structure and density. The alpha allotrope has a monoclinic crystal lattice while the beta has monoclinic, body centered one. The crystal lattices of the gamma and delta prima allotropes are orthorhombic and face centered and tetragonal and body centered, respectively. The elementís ionic radius, Van Der Waals radius, and electronegativity according to Pauling are unknown. Plutonium is a reactive element that is dissolved in perchloric acid, hydroiodic acid, and a solution of hydrogen chloride (hydrochloric acid). The element is sensitive to changes in chemical composition and temperature.

It is a paramagnetic element, and its structure is monoclinic. The element is silvery in color and has a poor thermal and electrical conductivity. Plutonium and its isotopes have application in the production of nuclear weapons and mixed oxide fuel. It can be used in the manufacturing of radiological weapons which spread medical waste and other radioactive materials. MOX fuel contains depleted uranium (with low content of uranium-235), reprocessed and naturally occurring uranium, and plutonium. Plutonium-238 is an isotope that can be used for the generation of electrical power and for the production heart pacemakers.

Plutonium is a health hazard when inhaled, and it absorbs quickly in the blood. Once a radiation dose has entered the lungs, it can accumulate in the liver and bones. While media describes it as the most dangerous chemical, scientists disagree on this. Botulism toxin, released by Clostridium botulinum, and radium are more toxic and radiotoxic than plutonium. Botulism toxin, which causes muscle spasms, migraine, and cervical dystonia is billions of times more toxic. The exposure to alpha particle radiation increases the likelihood of developing lung cancer. Plutonium is carried to the liver, bones, and other organs and increases the risk for cell damage and cancer at the affected sites and organs. People who inhale or ingest weapons-grade plutonium are at risk of developing cancer. Long-term exposure and overexposure to plutonium also lead to reproductive problems. When inhaled in large amounts, plutonium can cause death due to poisoning. It can remain in the body for a long period of time, with radiation causing cancer.

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