Chemistry has always fascinated man. Every now and then, a new element has been discovered and added to the ever growing periodic table. One such element that has gained notoriety is plutonium. This is because this element strongly figures in the list of radioactive elements. Yes, plutonium is a transuranic element that is radioactive in nature. This actinide metal is silvery-white in color, which gets oxidized and tarnished when exposed to the atmosphere. Unlike uranium and neptunium plutonium is a purely synthetic element. In fact, every element in the periodic table after uranium is a man-made chemical element, which does not exist naturally on the earth. Facts About Plutonium
★ Plutonium, which has the symbol 'Pu' in the periodic table, was discovered way back in the year 1934, although it was first produced and isolated only in 1940 and then, identified in 1941 by the scientists Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, Edwin M. McMillan, J. W. Kennedy, and A. C. Wahl.
★ Plutonium, when it was being discovered, it was the same time there was speculation of a new planet being discovered back then, which was Pluto. Hence, Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg decided to call the element 'plutonium'.
★ One of the facts for kids is that plutonium has an atomic number of 94, atomic weight of 244, a density of 19.816 g/cm3, a melting point of 640º C and a boiling point of 3,230º C.
★ This element can exhibit six allotropes and has a total of four oxidation states, making it capable of reacting with carbon, halogens, nitrogen and silicon. In fact, when plutonium is in an aqueous solution, it is capable of showing different colors depending on its stage of oxidation; these colors range from blue and lavender to yellow and brown.
★ One of the facts about plutonium is that, it has different isotopes and one of its isotopes, plutonium-239 has a half-life of a whopping 24,100 years! This is the reason why plutonium was favored while making atom bombs.
★ Another interesting fact is that this element, when exposed to moist air, forms oxides and hydrides, which make it expand in volume by more than half, and then, flake off in a powdery form. This powder has the property of spontaneously igniting if left as it is, and so metallic plutonium is highly flammable. Its flammability increases if it is finely divided and then exposed to moisture, as there is more surface area available.
★ You may be shocked to know that the bomb which was dropped on Nagasaki, in Japan in August 1945, known as 'Fat Man', had a core entirely made of the radioactive isotope, plutonium-239, that is how lethal this chemical element is! Plutonium-239 is a major fissile element, that is, it can sustain a chain reaction of nuclear fission reactions in nuclear bombs.
★ Plutonium is radioactive in nature and tends to accumulate in the bone marrow, making the person susceptible to bone cancer due to its radioactivity.
★ The plutonium-238 isotope has a half-life of only eighty-eight years. However, when it decays, it tends to give out a lot of thermal energy and so, it has been used in generating power in spacecrafts that have been launched by NASA.
★ There are very few good, non-destructive uses of plutonium. These include it being used to power artificial heart pacemakers and for electrical power generation in some devices. As mentioned earlier, its use also includes in spacecrafts that are to be sent out of the earth's orbit.
★ Plutonium is highly toxic in nature and its effects on the human body are far worse when it is inhaled as against it being ingested.
★ There are high possibilities of a person getting lung cancer if he inhales plutonium dust. It is not noticeable initially, however, once the plutonium dust particles enter into the lungs they stay there for several years and contribute to the development of lung cancer.
★ The chromosomes or genes in the sperm of the miners are adversely affected by radiation, which results in congenital deformities, birth defects and genetic disorders in the future generations of the workers.
★ It has been observed that children playing on the beach near the plutonium fabrication plant are more likely to suffer from childhood leukemia than those who did not play in that area.
★ The land areas that are contaminated with plutonium are going down in their value, from a residential or even commercial point of view. The reason is that the buyers do not want to invest in the land that brings along the risk of adverse effects of plutonium on the health as well as on the environment.
So, these were some plutonium facts that must have definitely increased your knowledge about this dangerous element of chemistry. These facts about plutonium make us realize how man can create structures that can wreak havoc on himself and nature. Let us hope that in the future, plutonium is only used in the interest of humanity and mankind, and not otherwise.