Plutonium

Plutonium or Pu is the 94th element on the periodic table, and a member of the actinide family. It is a radioactive element that is silver-white in colour. This page discusses the isotopes plutonium-239 and plutonium-238 but it should be noted that there are many different isotopes of plutonium. All isotopes of plutonium have to be made on purpose in a laboratory or reactor as the natural occurring plutonium has long since decayed away. These are the most common and most used in the energy industry.

Element Property Description


Half life:

Pu-239: 24,100yrs
Pu-238: 87.7yrs

Atomic number 94
Atomic mass (amu) Pu-239: 239

Pu-238: 238

Neutrons Pu-239: 145

Pu-238: 144

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Uses
  • Plutonium-239: is used for the production of nuclear weapons, and as fuel in nuclear reactors
  • Plutonium-238: produces low intensity energy for a very long time and can be used to power satellites and other spacecraft that require energy for long period of time (the mars rover etc).
  • Where it's found
  • Plutonium-239: does not exist naturally in nature but is created from uranium in nuclear reactors
  • Plutonium-238: also does not exist naturally in nature but can be created from other radioactive elements
  • How it's harvested
  • Plutonium-239: is created in nuclear reactors from uranium-238 - it absorbs a neutron becoming uranium-239 then further decays into plutonium-239
  • Plutonium-238: is created from the irradiation of neptunium which must also undergo chemical treatment to obtain pure samples of plutonium-238. It is an expensive and difficult process that takes a long time and produces only small amounts.
  • Benefits/positives of element
  • Plutonium-239: can be used in nuclear reactors and produces more energy than most other fissile materials
  • Plutonium-238: has been used in several NASA missions including the Apollo spacecraft and the Mars rover. It is relatively safe as it can't be used in nuclear weapons and doesn't emit radiation that is seriously harmful to people unless ingested
  • Hazards
  • Plutonium-239: Due to the decay process it undergoes (alpha decay) plutonium-239 is only dangerous if exposed internally and is much less harmful when exposed externally. Also, the fact that plutonium-239 can be weaponized makes it an extremely hazardous material with very strict regulations placed on it.
  • Plutonium-238: Much like plutonium-239, if exposed internally in large enough doses there can be significant hazards to health.
  • Plutonium is actually chemically harmful to health as well. The health effects of plutonium are somewhat complicated.
  • Environmental impact
  • Plutonium-239: was released into the environment during nuclear weapons testing, it is widely dispersed but in quantities low enough not to pose any risk
  • Plutonium-238: has limited environmental impacts and very little of it can be released in toxic forms.
  • References

    1. "Plutonium" internet: http://periodictable.com/Elements/094/

    Authors and Editors

    Jordan Hanania, Braden Heffernan, Nathan Lefsrud, Matthew McLean, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev