Plutonium





Plutonium, Our Country\'s Only Feasible Solution
Abstract:
Should we begin to manufacture one of the most destructive and infamous
substances on the face on the Earth once again? The engineers say yes, but
the public says no. The United States stopped making this element with the
ban on manufacturing nuclear weapons. But with the continuing problem with
our ever diminishing energy sources, some want us to begin using more
nuclear energy and less energy from natural resources. This paper is going
to discuss what plutonium is, the advantages and disadvantages of its use,
and why we should think about restarting our production of this useful
element.

After the United States dropped "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" on Japan ending
World War II, the public has had some type of understanding about the
power of plutonium and its devastating properties, but that is all anyone
heard.
After WWII, Americans started to think about what the atomic bomb could do
to the U.S. and its people. When anyone mentioned plutonium or the word
"nuclear" the idea of Hiroshima or Nagasaki being destroyed was the first
thing people thought about. No one could even ponder the idea that it
could be used for other more constructive things like sources of energy or
to kept a person\'s heart beating. Then we started to build more reactors
and produce more of the substance but mostly for our nuclear weapons
programs.
Along with reactors, sometimes comes a meltdown which can produce harmful
effects if it isn\'t controlled quickly enough. After such instances as the
Hanford, Washington reactor meltdown and the accident in the U.S.S.R. at
the Chernobyl site, no one wanted to hear about the use of plutonium. The
United States government banned nuclear testing and also ended the
production of plutonium.(Ref. 5) Now we are in a dilemma.
We are in need of future sources of energy to power our nation. We are
running out of coal and oil to run our power plants.(Ref. 7) We also need
it to further our space exploration program. People need to understand the
advantages to using plutonium and that the disadvantages are not as
catastrophic as they seem. With the turn of the century on its way, the
reemergence of plutonium production will need to be a reality for us to
continue our way of life.
In 1941, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered
something that would change our planet forever. The man\'s name, Glenn T.
Seaborg, and what did he discover?, the element plutonium.(ref. 10)
Plutonium, or Pu #94 on the periodic table, is one of the most unstable
elements on the earth. It is formed when Uranium 235, another highly
unstable element, absorbs a neutron. Plutonium is a silvery-white metal
that has a very high density of 19.816 g/cm3.(ref. 10 ) It has been
rarely found in the earth\'s crust but the majority of the substance has to
be produced in the cores of nuclear reactors.
Plutonium can be found fifteen different forms, or isotopes and their mass
number can range from 232-246.(ref. 13) Radionuclide batteries used in
pacemakers use Pu-238, while Pu-239 is used in reactors and for Nuclear
weapons.(ref. 13) This paper will focus on the isotopes Pu-238 and Pu-239.
Plutonium can be very advantageous for the United States. It can be used
for several purposes. The three major advantages to using this element are
for an energy source, power for nuclear propulsion in space exploration
and thermo-electric generators in cardiac pacemakers.
The first use for plutonium, nuclear power, is obviously the most
beneficial use. Plutonium 239 can be used to power nuclear reactors. The
average nuclear reactor contains about 325 kilograms of plutonium within
its uranium fuel.(ref. 7) This complements the uranium fission process.
With the continually decreasing supply of coal and oil to power our
nation, we need a substitute to complement our energy needs and right now
the best replacement is that of nuclear energy.(ref. 7) At the moment
there are one hundred and ten nuclear power plants in the United States
and they produce one-fifth of the nations electricity. Nuclear energy has
been proven to be the cheapest, safest, cleanest and probably the most
efficient source of energy.(ref. 7)
Nuclear power plants do not use as much fuel as the plants burning coal
and
oil. One ton of uranium produces more energy than several million tons of
coal and plutonium can produce much more energy than uranium.(ref. 12)
Also the burning of coal and oil pollute our air and the last thing we
need is more pollution to worsen the greenhouse effect.
Nuclear power plants cannot contaminate the environment because they do
not release any