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Plutonium is a radioactive metallic element. It is found occasionally found in nature.

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Harsh Mungala                                                                                                                                                  MYP Assessment:

Glenis Goodman                                                                                                                                        Introducing an Element

10th grade Chemistry



Plutonium is a radioactive metallic element. It is found occasionally found in nature. Although, most of the time it is artificially produced in laboratories. The official chemical symbol for plutonium is "Pu", coming from its first and third letter of its full name. It has a atomic number of 94 and an atomic weight of [244] and it belongs to the Actinide Series. It has a very strange electron configuration of 2,8,18,32,24,8,2. Plutonium has a very high melting point of 620oC and an extremely high boiling point of 3460oC. The density of Plutonium, at twenty degrees centigrade, is 1986 grams per cubic centimeter.

Plutonium was discovered, in the laboratory, by Glenn Theodore Seaborg, and his assistant Edward M. McMillan. The two shared the Nobel prize in 1951 for their investigations on Plutonium (Pu) and discoveries of Americium (Am), Curium (Cm), Berkelium (Bk), and Californium (Cf).

Later on, Seaborg contributed with the discovery of three more radioactive elements, Einsteinium (Es), Mendelevium (Md), and Nobelium (No).

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Currently, there are fifteen known isotopes of Plutonium”, with mass numbers ranging between 232 and 246. The most important isotope is plutonium239 (also known as Pu-239). “When struck by a neutron, this isotope undergoes a process called fission.” In fission, when struck by a neutron, the nucleus of the plutonium atom is split into two nearly equal parts and energy is released. Although the energy released by one atom is not much, the splitting of the nucleus releases more neutrons, which strike more plutonium atoms. This process is called a chain-reaction and produces enormous amounts of energy. This energy is often used to power nuclear reactors, or to provide the energy for nuclear weapons.

Although plutonium is useful for generating electricity in nuclear power plants for our homes, it has other uses as well. The Plutonium isotope Pu238 is used to power all the long-range space missions. This isotope has a half life of almost 90 years. Batteries would not last long enough to power a space mission and solar power decreases to fast as the distance from the sun increases, making solar power unusable with current technology.

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        Another disadvantage is that it is hard to dispose. What many countries have done to overcome this problem is dump the radioactivity Plutonium into the seas, destroying marine life. Due to this problem much of Brazilian marine life forms were in danger. It took a very long time to settle the problem. But even today many countries make that mistake. Unfortunately, even I cannot suggest a better solution to this problem....  

Bibliography (text):




Encarta 1999 (CD)

The Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Science. Authors: Corinne Stockley, Chris Oxlade, Jane Wertheim

Friend living in Brazil

Bibliography (pictures):

www.chemsoc.org/viselements/pages/ data/plutonium_data.html

www.nobel.se/chemistry/laureates/ 1951/seaborg-bio.html

web.umr.edu/~reactor/ basicphysics.html

www.floridatoday.com/space/explore/ probes/cassini/tower2.jp

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