The question arises, should we begin to manufacture one of the most destructive and infamous substances on the face of this Earth again? The engineers of our country say yes, but the public says no. The United States quit making this element with the ban on manufacturing nuclear weapons. But with the continuing problem of our energy sources scarcity, some want us to begin using more nuclear energy and less energy from natural resources. This research paper is going to discuss what plutonium is, advantages and disadvantages of plutonium, and why we are considering restarting it’s production.

After the United States dropped “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” on Japan, which ended WWII, the public has had some type of understanding about the power of plutonium and the devastating properties it possesses.

After WWII, Americans started to think about what the atomic bomb could do to the United States and it’s people. When ever plutonium was mentioned the first thing that came to people’s minds were the bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. No one ever considered the fact that plutonium could be used for more constructive purposes such as: sources of energy or to keep a person’s heart beating. We did begin to produce more plutonium but the majority of the substance was used towards our nuclear weapons programs.

Along with reactors, sometimes comes a meltdown which can cause 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 our 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 severe as they seem. With the turn if the century on being quickly 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 exactly did he discover? The element plutonium. (Ref 10) Plutonium, also known as 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 the nuclear reactors.

Plutonium can be found in 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 is going to focus on 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 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, it 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 with in its uranium fuel. (Ref 7) This complements the uranium fission process. With the continually decreasing supply of coal and oil to the power our nation, we need s 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 nation’s electricity. Nuclear energy has been proven to be the cheapest, safest, and 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.