9 Plutonium (Pu) Facts

Most everyone has heard about Plutonium. It has a well earned reputation of being a deadly radioactive metal. Plutonium does have some positive qualities to go along with the negative ones though. Here are some interesting facts about Plutonium you might not have known.

Fat Man Nuclear Bomb Mushroom Cloud1. Plutonium (Pu), atomic number 94, is a radioactive, metallic chemical element.

2. Stable Plutonium comes in 6 different isotopes: 238Pu, 239Pu, 240Pu, 241Pu, 242Pu and 244Pu, with 239Pu being the most significant isotope available and 244Pu only available in trace amounts.

3. 244Pu has a half-life of approximately 80 million years, making it the most nucleon-rich atom that naturally occurs in the Earth's crust. This natural occurring Plutonium was formed at the birth of the solar system from waste of supernovae.

4. Most Plutonium is actually man-made. It is synthesized from natural Uranium.

5. In an aqueous solution Plutonium displays as 5 different colors, depending on its ionic oxidation state. These colors are blue lavender, yellow, brown, pink, pink orange and dark red.

6. TV shows like The Simpsons generally show Plutonium as a neon green substance; however metallic plutonium actually resembles Lead in its coloring.

7. 239Pu is used as a key fissile component (a material that can sustain a chain reaction of nuclear fission) in nuclear bombs. The Manhattan Project "Fat Man" bombs used 239Pu.

238Pu emits a large amount of thermal energy as it decays and therefore has been used by NASA in generators powering its space probes. It was even used in the Apollo Moon missions to power experiment packages after the astronauts left.

9. In the 1940s, Plutonium was injected into human subjects to examine its effects. This was done to terminally ill patients or patients thought to have a life expectancy of less than 10 years without informed consent or the belief that these injections would heal their conditions. This is now considered to be a major breach of medical ethics and of the Hippocratic Oath.