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About Plutonium

Plutonium Bohr

Plutonium, as with other members of the actinide series, is highly radioactive. Plutonium differentiates itself from the rest of the group by being one of only three primary fissile isotopes in use (239Pu) – [the other two include 233U and 235U] – to produce and sustain a nuclear chain reaction when struck by a slow moving neutron. In fact, just one kilogram of 239Pu can produce an explosion equivalent to 21,000 tons of chemical explosives. Its primary applications include weapons, power generation, and fuel generation and its applicability is determined by the fractional amount of spontaneously fissile 240Pu contained in the system. Weapons-grade plutonium has the smallest amount of 240Pu dillution (<7%), while power-grade plutonium has the largest amount of 240Pu present (>19%). Additionally, other isotopes have been used for very specific applications: 238Pu is used in radioisotope thermoelectric generators on deep-space spacecraft, and 233Pu was used for power systems on lunar equipment set in place during the Apollo program. The choice of which particular plutonium isotope to use is determined by application requirements and half-life characteristics of the isotope.

Plutonium’s most stable isotope (244Pu) has a half-life around 80 million years – long enough for trace amounts (parts-per-trillion) to remain present in the Earth’s crust. Discovery of plutonium in the laboratory was necessitated by the scarce amount of this element available in nature. First falsely discovered by Enrico Fermi in 1934, plutonium was first synthesized by Glenn Seaborg (under Edwin McMillan’s leadership) at Berkeley Radiation Laboratory in 1940 through deuteron bombardment of uranium. The official discovery was predicated upon uranium research that Egon Bretscher and Norman Feather had experimented upon at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. While the discovery and first synthesization was complete in 1940, the fact of plutonium’s existence was not known publicly until 1946 – after conclusion of the primary motivation for the Manhattan Project. The United States’ very first atomic weapon test (“Trinity”) as well as the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan (“Fat Man” – Nagasaki), used plutonium as its fissile material. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was set in place partly due to concerns over worldwide plutonium contamination.

Plutonium is a silvery-gray metal and oxidizes readily when exposed to air. When exposed to moist air, the volume of the plutonium sample can increase 70%, causing powder to flake off and spontaneously ignite. Other atypical observations of plutonium include its increased density when it melts and its resistivity increases when its temperature is lowered – both unusual traits of metals. Plutonium’s complicated phase diagram also makes machining plutonium difficult as its states easily change through several allotropes depending on its environmental conditions. Due to its reactive nature, plutonium combines with many other elements to form compounds and metal alloys, none of which have any applicability outside of fundamental scientific research Plutonium has twenty known isotopes, many with applications described earlier. Over time, plutonium isotopes = 244 typically decays into uranium and neptunium via alpha decay. Isotopes >244 typically decay into americium through beta decay.

Plutonium Properties

Plutonium Bohr ModelPlutonium is a Block F, Group 3, Period 7 element. The number of electrons in each of Plutonium's shells is 2, 8, 18, 32, 24, 8, 2 and its electronic configuration is [Rn] 5f6 7s2. In its elemental form, CAS 7440-07-5, plutonium has a silvery white appearance. The plutonium atom has a radius of 151.3.pm and its Van der Waals radius is 200.pm. Plutonium is found in some concentrated ores of uranium. Plutonium was discovered by Glenn T. Seaborg, Edwin M. McMillan, J. W. Kennedy and A. C. Wahl  in 1940. The element Plutonium was named after the former planet Pluto.

Plutonium is radioactive and toxic. Plutonium information, including technical data, safety data and itsproperties, research, applications and other useful facts are discussed below. Scientific facts such as the atomic structure, ionization energy, abundance on Earth, conductivity and thermal properties are included.

Symbol: Pu
Atomic Number: 94
Atomic Weight: 244
Element Category: Actinide
Group, Period, Block: n/a, 7, f
Color: silvery white
Other Names: Plutonio
Melting Point: 640°C, 1184°F, 913.15 K
Boiling Point: 3228°C, 5842.4°F, 3501.15 K
Density: 19814 kg·m3
Liquid Density @ Melting Point: 16.63 g·cm3
Density @ 20°C: 19.8 g/cm3
Density of Solid: 19816 kg·m3
Specific Heat: N/A
Superconductivity Temperature: N/A
Triple Point: N/A
Critical Point: N/A
Heat of Fusion (kJ·mol-1): 2.8
Heat of Vaporization (kJ·mol-1): 343.5
Heat of Atomization (kJ·mol-1): 348
Thermal Conductivity: 6.74 W·m-1·K-1
Thermal Expansion: (25 °C) 46.7 µm·m-1·K-1
Electrical Resistivity: (0 °C) 1.460 nΩ·m
Tensile Strength: N/A
Molar Heat Capacity: 35.5 J·mol-1·K-1
Young's Modulus: 96 GPa
Shear Modulus: 43 GPa
Bulk Modulus: N/A
Poisson Ratio: 0.21
Mohs Hardness: N/A
Vickers Hardness: N/A
Brinell Hardness: N/A
Speed of Sound: 2260 m·s-1
Pauling Electronegativity: 1.28
Sanderson Electronegativity: N/A
Allred Rochow Electronegativity: 1.22
Mulliken-Jaffe Electronegativity: N/A
Allen Electronegativity: N/A
Pauling Electropositivity: 2.72
Reflectivity (%): N/A
Refractive Index: N/A
Electrons: 94
Protons: 94
Neutrons: 150
Electron Configuration: [Rn] 5f6 7s2
Atomic Radius: 159 pm
Atomic Radius,
non-bonded (Å):
2.43
Covalent Radius: 187±1 pm
Covalent Radius (Å): 1.8
Van der Waals Radius: 243 pm
Oxidation States: 6, 5, 4, 3
Phase: Solid 
Crystal Structure: monoclinic
Magnetic Ordering: paramagnetic
Electron Affinity (kJ·mol-1) Unknown
1st Ionization Energy: 584.7 kJ·mol-1
2nd Ionization Energy: N/A
3rd Ionization Energy: N/A
CAS Number: 7440-07-5
EC Number: N/A
MDL Number: N/A
Beilstein Number: N/A
SMILES Identifier: [Pu]
InChI Identifier: InChI=1S/Pu
InChI Key: OYEHPCDNVJXUIW-UHFFFAOYSA-N
PubChem CID: 23940
ChemSpider ID: 22382
Earth - Total: N/A
Mercury - Total: N/A
Venus - Total: N/A
Earth - Seawater (Oceans), ppb by weight: N/A
Earth - Seawater (Oceans), ppb by atoms: N/A
Earth -  Crust (Crustal Rocks), ppb by weight: N/A
Earth -  Crust (Crustal Rocks), ppb by atoms: N/A
Sun - Total, ppb by weight: N/A
Sun - Total, ppb by atoms: N/A
Stream, ppb by weight: N/A
Stream, ppb by atoms: N/A
Meterorite (Carbonaceous), ppb by weight: N/A
Meterorite (Carbonaceous), ppb by atoms: N/A
Typical Human Body, ppb by weight: N/A
Typical Human Body, ppb by atom: N/A
Universe, ppb by weight: N/A
Universe, ppb by atom: N/A
Discovered By: Glenn T. Seaborg, Arthur Wahl, Joseph W. Kennedy, Edwin McMillan
Discovery Date: 1940
First Isolation: N/A

Plutonium Isotopes

Plutonium is an artificial element. It has no stable isotopes.

Nuclide Isotopic Mass Half-Life Mode of Decay Nuclear Spin Magnetic Moment Binding Energy (MeV) Natural Abundance
(% by atom)
228Pu 228.03874(3) 1.1(+20-5) s α to 224U; β+ to 228Np 0+ N/A 1708.52 -
229Pu 229.04015(6) 120(50) s α to 225U 3/2+# N/A 1707.28 -
230Pu 230.039650(16) 1.70(17) min α to 226U; β+ to 230Np 0+ N/A 1724.68 -
231Pu 231.041101(28) 8.6(5) min β+ to 231Np; α to 227U 3/2+# N/A 1723.44 -
232Pu 232.041187(19) 33.7(5) min EC to 232Np; α to 228U 0+ N/A 1731.52 -
233Pu 233.04300(5) 20.9(4) min β+ to 233Np; α to 229U 5/2+# N/A 1739.6 -
234Pu 234.043317(7) 8.8(1) h EC to 234Np; α to 230U 0+ N/A 1747.68 -
235Pu 235.045286(22) 25.3(5) min β+ to 235Np; α to 231U (5/2+) N/A 1755.76 -
236Pu 236.0460580(24) 2.858(8) y α to 232U 0+ N/A 1763.84 -
237Pu 237.0484097(24) 45.2(1) d EC to 237Np; α to 232U 7/2- N/A 1771.91 -
238Pu 238.0495599(20) 87.7(1) y α to 234U; SF 0+ N/A 1779.99 -
239Pu 239.0521634(20) 24.11(3)E+3 y α to 235U; SF 1/2+ 0.203 1778.76 -
240Pu 240.0538135(20) 6561(7) y α to 236U; SF 0+ N/A 1786.83 -
241Pu 241.0568515(20) 14.290(6) y α to 237U; SF ; β- to 241Am 5/2+ -0.683 1794.91 -
242Pu 242.0587426(20) 3.75(2)E+5 y α to 238U; SF 0+ N/A 1802.99 -
243Pu 243.062003(3) 4.956(3) h β- to 243Am 7/2+ N/A 1801.75 -
244Pu 244.064204(5) 8.00(9)E+7 y α to 240U; SF 0+ N/A 1809.83 -
245Pu 245.067747(15) 10.5(1) h β- to 245Am (9/2-) N/A 1817.91 -
246Pu 246.070205(16) 10.84(2) d β- to 246Am 0+ N/A 1816.67 -
247Pu 247.07407(32)# 2.27(23) d β- to 247Am 1/2+# N/A 1824.75 -
Plutonium Elemental Symbol

Recent Research & Development for Plutonium

  • High temperature X-ray diffraction study of the oxidation products and kinetics of uranium-plutonium mixed oxides. Strach M, Belin RC, Richaud JC, Rogez J. Inorg Chem. 2014 Dec 15
  • Early Blood Plutonium Retention in Nonhuman Primates Compared to the NCRP 156 Wound Biokinetic Model. Konzen K, Brey R, Guilmette R. Health Phys. 2015 Mar
  • Nuclear power: Desperately seeking plutonium. Witze A. Nature. 2014 Nov 27
  • Theoretical study of plutonium(IV) complexes formed within the PUREX process: a proposal of a plutonium surrogate in fire conditions. Šulka M, Cantrel L, Vallet V. J Phys Chem A. 2014 Oct 30
  • Effect of fulvic Acid surface coatings on plutonium sorption and desorption kinetics on goethite. Tinnacher RM, Begg JD, Mason H, Ranville J, Powell BA, Wong JC, Kersting AB, Zavarin M. Environ Sci Technol. 2015 Mar 3
  • Synthesis and Structures of Plutonyl Nitrate Complexes: Is Plutonium Heptavalent in PuO3(NO3)2(-) ? Maurice R, Renault E, Gong Y, Rutkowski PX, Gibson JK. Inorg Chem. 2015 Mar 2
  • Elemental composition in sealed plutonium-beryllium neutron sources. Xu N, Kuhn K, Gallimore D, Martinez A, Schappert M, Montoya D, Lujan E, Garduno K, Tandon L. Appl Radiat Isot. 2014 Oct 22
  • Evaluation of Plutonium(IV) Extraction Rate between Nitric Acid and Tri-n-Butylphosphate Solution using a Glass Chip Microchannel. Yamamoto M, Taguchi S, Sato S, Surugaya N. J Sep Sci. 2015 Mar 9.
  • Plutonium isotopes in the terrestrial environment at the Savannah River Site, USA: a long-term study. Armstrong CR, Nuessle PR, Brant HA, Hall G, Halverson JE, Cadieux JR. Environ Sci Technol. 2015 Feb 3
  • Uncertainty induced by chest wall thickness assessment methods on lung activity estimation for plutonium and americium: a large population-based study. Broggio D, Lechaftois X, Franck D. J Radiol Prot. 2015 Mar
  • Plutonium as a tracer for soil erosion assessment in northeast China. Xu Y, Qiao J, Pan S, Hou X, Roos P, Cao L. Sci Total Environ. 2015 Apr 1
  • Plutonium(IV) sorption to montmorillonite in the presence of organic matter. Boggs MA, Dai Z, Kersting AB, Zavarin M. J Environ Radioact. 2015 Jan 3
  • Understanding the interactions of neptunium and plutonium ions with graphene oxide: scalar-relativistic DFT investigations. Wu QY, Lan JH, Wang CZ, Zhao YL, Chai ZF, Shi WQ. J Phys Chem A. 2014 Nov 6
  • Chromosome aberrations in workers with exposure to α-particle radiation from internal deposits of plutonium: expectations from in vitro studies and comparisons with workers with predominantly external γ-radiation exposure. Curwen GB, Sotnik NV, Cadwell KK, Azizova TV, Hill MA, Tawn EJ. Radiat Environ Biophys. 2015 Feb 4.
  • Colloid-associated plutonium aged at room temperature: evaluating its transport velocity in saturated coarse-grained granites. Xie J, Lin J, Wang Y, Li M, Zhang J, Zhou X, He Y. J Contam Hydrol. 2015 Jan
  • Direct isotope ratio analysis of individual uranium-plutonium mixed particles with various U/Pu ratios by thermal ionization mass spectrometry. Suzuki D, Esaka F, Miyamoto Y, Magara M. Appl Radiat Isot. 2015 Feb
  • Impact of environmental curium on plutonium migration and isotopic signatures. Kurosaki H, Kaplan DI, Clark SB. Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Dec 2
  • Plutonium sorption and desorption behavior on bentonite. Begg JD, Zavarin M, Tumey SJ, Kersting AB. J Environ Radioact. 2015 Jan 6
  • Microdosimetric considerations of lung cancer risks from plutonium. Simmons JA. Health Phys. 2015 Mar
  • Avoided valence transition in a plutonium superconductor. Ramshaw BJ, Shekhter A, McDonald RD, Betts JB, Mitchell JN, Tobash PH, Mielke CH, Bauer ED, Migliori A. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Mar 3.