Ever since the United States dropped the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945,
countries around the world have embarked on a race to equip their arsenals with nuclear warheads.
This in turn has led to a tremendous public interest and intrigue regarding these weapons of mass destruction. But the question is, what makes these weapons so powerful? The answer is Plutonium or Uranium and, today we’ll try to find the difference.
Also referred to as the “boogey-man” of the periodic table. It is a metal with a silver gray appearance and is a chemical element with the symbol “U” and atomic number 92. Uranium was discovered in 1789, by a German chemist named Martin Heinrich Klaproth and he named the new element after the newly discovered planet Uranus.
The atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima called “Little Boy” contained 64 kg of Uranium although less than a kilogram underwent nuclear fission (Nuclear fission or Elemental transmutation is a process in which the nucleus of an atom splits in two or smaller nuclei having similar masses.)
Is Uranium a fossil fuel? No! It is classified as a nuclear fuel and is used by the military to fuel nuclear submarines.
Since it is a metal, a common question is, can you touch uranium? The answer is no, it is a highly radioactive substance and therefore exposure to it can occur when you breathe, eat, or drink the contaminant, or when it touches your skin. However, since it is radioactive, you can also be exposed to its radiation if you are near it.
It is the heaviest naturally -occurring element in large quantities and is quite cheap! Nearly 10% of the 40 million pounds U3O8e delivered in 2018 was U.S.-origin uranium at a weighted-average price of $45.26 per pound. Uranium form foreign countries accounted for the remaining 90% of deliveries at a weighted-average price of $38.11 per pound. Don’t get excited though, you cannot buy it on Amazon, and its sale is highly regulated.
If Uranium is the “Boogey-man“, Plutonium is the “Hannibal” of the periodic table. It is a metal with a silver-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air and forms a dull coating when oxidized. It is a chemical element with the symbol PU and atomic number 94. Plutonium is a man made element, discovered by Glenn T. Seaborg, Edwin McMillan, Joseph W. Kennedy, and Arthur Wahl on December 14, 1940.
Plutonium does not occur naturally in the environment, it is a man made element. It is an incredibly dense metal to the extent that if you try to chip away the metal with a hacksaw blade, the blade will break. The sheer density implies that a golf ball sized lump of Plutonium will weigh more than a Kilogram or 2.2 pounds!
The atomic bomb dropped over the Japanese city of Nagasaki called “Fat Man” contained 6.19 Kilograms of Plutonium although only 1 kilogram underwent fission.
Can you touch Plutonium? There is no health hazard from touching Plutonium. Just wash your hands afterwards so that any traces of it don’t accidentally get inside you. However, plutonium will feel warm to the touch because of the energy given off by alpha decay; larger pieces can produce enough heat to boil water. And no, you cannot use it grill your steak! Stop that train of thought.
Unlike Uranium, as mentioned before, Plutonium is a man-made element thus is not naturally found, therefore, it can be quite expensive.
How much does it cost to buy Plutonium? A gram of Plutonium can cost you around $4000. However, do expect regulatory authorities to look into your buying habits if you buy some.