Arthur C. Wohl, Edward M. McMillan, Joseph W. Kennedy and Glenn T. Seaborg first discovered plutonium at the University of California in 1941.They bombarded uranium-238 atoms with deuterons in a 60-inch cyclotron and created neptunium-238 and two free neutrons. Neptunium-238 further decomposed into plutonium-238 via beta decay. The element was named after the planet Pluto.
||Solid at 298 K
|CAS Registry ID
|Period in periodic table
|Block in periodic table
||913 K (640°C or 1184°F)
||3501 K (3228°C or 5842°F)
|Phase at room temperature
Traces of plutonium can be obtained from uranium ores. Commercially, it is produced by irradiation of uranium in nuclear reactors.
Plutonium - Periodic Table of Videos
Plutonium has 17 radioactive isotopes with mass numbers from 227Pu to 248Pu. The longest-lived isotopes of plutonium are 244Pu with a half-life of 80.8 million years, 242Pu with a half-life of 373,300 years and 239Pu with a half-life of 24,110 years.
Plutonium is produced in nuclear reactors by irradiating uranium-238 with neutrons to form uranium-239, which in turn undergoes of series of nuclear reactions to form plutonium-239.
U-238 + n → U-239 → Np-239 → Pu-239
Human exposure to radioactive plutonium for a long time may lead to deposition of the element in the internal body organs, thus causing the development of cancer.
The key properties of plutonium are listed below:
- It is a silvery radioactive metal
- It has six allotropic forms
- It readily dissolves in mineral acids
- It is chemically reactive and forms compounds with the halogens, silicon, nitrogen and carbon
- It is warm to the touch owing to the heat of radioactive decay.
Some of the major applications of plutonium include the following:
- It is used in nuclear bombs and reactors due to its ability to undergo nuclear chain reactions
- It is used as heat and power sources for space probes
- It is widely used in artificial pacemakers