plutonium

A highly toxic, heavy, radioactive metallic element. There are 15 isotopes of plutonium, of which only five are produced in significant quantities: plutonium-238, -239, -240, -241, and -242. Plutonium-239 is the most important plutonium isotope as it is fissile and is used in nuclear weapons and some reactors.

On the other hand, plutonium-240 is unsuitable for use in nuclear weapons and reactor fuel. Thus, in a reactor whose main purpose is plutonium production, the rate at which plutonium-240 is formed controls the length of time fuel is allowed to remain under irradiation.

Plutonium is categorized according to plutonium-240 content, as follows: super-grade has 2-3% Pu-240; weapons-grade has less than 7% Pu-240; fuel-grade has 7-18 (or sometimes given as 7-19) % Pu-240; and reactor-grade has 18 or greater (or 19 or greater) % Pu-240. (Note: Despite what the name implies, “reactor-grade” plutonium has been used successfully to make a nuclear bomb.)

plutonium