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Q & A: Plutonium uses

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Most recent answer: 10/28/2010
Q:
I need to know the use of Plutonium by living organisms. for a science project could you help me?? or tell me where to find someone who can?? thank you
- Kate
Grove Avenue Christian school, Richmond,Va
A:
Plutonium is highly toxic. A small amount ingested in the human body will result in death. This isn't even because plutonium is radioactive, although it is. Plutonium is a heavy metal, and in general, living tissues are poisoned by heavy metals. Lead, arsenic, mercury, and thallium are examples of more commonly available poisonous heavy metals.

Human beings do in fact use plutonium for electrical power generation and in nuclear weapons. Plutonium is a byproduct of Uranium fission processes. When a U238 atom absorbs a neutron, it will become U239, which decays by emitting an electron (and an electron antineutrino) to make Neptunium 239, and another beta decay brings it down to Plutonium 239, which has a half-life of 24,360 years.

Tom

(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-Up #1: North Korea's Pu

Q:
Does north korea use it?
- Anonymous
A:
Yes, the semi-successful North Korean bomb test used plutonium. Although it's easier to get Pu than purified U235, Pu bombs are much trickier to build than U235 bombs. That's probably why that bomb didn't work as expected.

Mike W. 

(published on 04/28/2009)

Follow-Up #2: What are uses for Plutonium?

Q:
What are uses for Plutonium
- Matt (age 12)
Forest City Pa, America
A:
Other than making atomic bombs and being used as fuel in some nuclear reactors, there is not much use for it.  It is highly toxic not very friendly to people and other living things.  A type of battery was developed using plutonium that is long lasting but hasn't caught on except in some esoteric scientific experiments.

LeeH

(published on 10/28/2010)

Follow-up on this answer.