What is Plutonium?

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What is Plutonium?
Plutonium is a highly radioactive metal that has a gray or silver color and is named after the dwarf planet Pluto. This metal is quite rare and can be found in ores rich in uranium but in trace amounts. It was said to be discovered in the year 1940 when uranium was bombarded with neutrons or deuterons. Along with uranium, plutonium is one of few chemical elements wherein atoms may be split to cause a massive explosion. This is why much of its use is in nuclear power plants and in the production of nuclear weapons.

Plutonium’s radioactive property is mostly demonstrated through alpha particle emission, which involves the release of high energy radiation or helium nuclei. Plutonium has also high resistivity at room temperatures and even higher when temperatures are dropped. This means that this particular chemical element strongly opposes the flow of electricity at room and low temperatures, which is not usual for most metals. Plutonium is considered highly radioactive because it has a half-life of 24,000 years. Half-life is defined as the duration it takes half of an original amount of the material goes into decay. In plutonium’s case, it is a very long 24,000 years.

Plutonium is also said to be difficult to handle and store. It easily oxidizes and becomes extremely hot when exposed to air. Because of this property, plutonium can easily ignite other materials nearby that maybe highly flammable. If that happens, fire will result and people near the area will be exposed to its radioactive elements. Storage is also a big concern for this chemical element because if they are stored in very close proximity to each other, it may cause “runaway fission” or an uncontrollable nuclear reaction. Though this type of fission does not result to a massive explosion, it can still cause lots of radioactive materials to be released to the environment.

Exposure to plutonium is feared because in large doses it can cause damage to bodily tissues. Human exposure is usually through contaminated air, food, or water. And research has shown that once plutonium is inside the body, as much as 80% of it will go to the liver, bone, or bone marrow causing damage to these organs and nearby tissues.

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