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Plutonium Uses

Plutonium Uses
The most important aspect of plutonium is its radioactivity and its volatility. This article will tell you about the most common uses of this element.
Rahul Thadani
Plutonium is a radioactive chemical element that changes its color, when it comes into contact with air and oxidizes. It has various utilities in our world today, and these uses are derived as a direct result of an inherent human need. Plutonium also happens to be the heaviest element found in the chemistry of nature, and this is due to the presence of its most stable isotope, Plutonium-244.
Chemical Symbol: PuĀ 
Atomic number: 94
Atomic weight: 244.0642
Discovered in: 1940, in the United States. It is derived from natural Uranium.
Isotopes: 20 known to man. The most important is Pu-239.
Classification: Radioactive Rare Earth
Appearance: Silvery-white
Plutonium is not very different from other metals in appearance, and it is just as hard and malleable. The only difference is that it oxidizes very fast after coming into contact with air, and this plays a major role in its many uses as well. It is not a very good conductor of electricity or heat either, and it gives off constant radiation known as 'Alpha Particle Emission'. It also happens to be a very reactive and volatile element, so it changes properties and characteristics very easily when it is exposed to various conditions. In addition to this, Plutonium also undergoes self-irradiation which causes it to generate a great amount of decay heat when it is left uncontrolled. This is the characteristic that causes Plutonium to glow when it is left unattended.
One of its most omnipresent uses is in nuclear bombs and nuclear weapons, thanks to its increased radioactivity, reactivity and volatility. The Plutonium-239 radioactive isotope is used for this purpose, and this is due to its high fission probability. The advantage of using Plutonium in nuclear bombs over Uranium-235 is that a much lesser amount of it is required, for the bomb being equally destructive. In fact the atom bomb that was dropped over Nagasaki in Japan by the United States, in 1945, had a core made up of Plutonium. The Plutonium that is used for atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs is artificially created in reactors though, and direct exposure to this can cause cancer in human beings.
Another important use for Plutonium-238 is to make heart pacemakers. This is a bit controversial though, because this isotope of Plutonium, is just one neutron away from the Pu-239 variant, and it could prove to be harmful for the patient. Interestingly, Plutonium is also used for building long-lasting batteries for satellites and other space probes. In fact, it was used to power up seismic devices aboard the Apollo 14 shuttle as well.
These are the primary uses that man has exploited so far. The reactive nature of this element means that it cannot be put to many uses. It is harmful for any individual to come in direct contact with the element, and this means that its uses always be limited. The knowledge about the nuclear capabilities of the element is also leading many scientists and countries to adopt Plutonium as a source of nuclear energy for power, and this is something that is only going to become more widespread as time goes on and as technology advances further. When we see that 1 kilogram of this element can provide 22 million kilowatt hours of heat energy, we can begin to understand its true importance.
Plutonium can certainly be used for our benefit, but if this element falls into the wrong hands, the results will be deadly and fatal. This is a highly dangerous element and our Governments must treat them with utmost sincerity and responsibility.