6 Sep 2019

Plutonium - nuclear bombs & nuclear power

From Elemental, 8:00 am on 6 September 2019

Plutonium is a radioactive heavyweight associated with nuclear bombs & power generation.

It is mostly a synthetic element, although there are trace amounts in nature.

Plutonium (symbol Pu, atomic number 94) was discovered and named in 1940 after the dwarf planet Pluto. Alternative names considered by the discovery team were ‘ultimium’ or ‘’extremium, because of the mistaken belief they had found the last possible element on the periodic table. Its discovery wasn’t announced until the end of the second world war.

The isotope 239Pu is a fissile isotope that has led to its use in nuclear reactions.

238Pu is powering the Voyager spacecrafts, which have left our solar system, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT, in ep 60 of Elemental.

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Photo: RNZ

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The Elemental podcast is celebrating 150 years since the periodic table was first published by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

Find out more about events during the United Nation’s International Year of the Periodic Table.

Professor Allan Blackman is at Auckland University of Technology.