23 Characteristics of Uranium That Your Kids Must Know | Kidadl


23 Characteristics of Uranium That Your Kids Must Know

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The basic characteristics of this heavy uranium metal include its silvery-white colour and its ductility and malleability.

Uranium is one of the densest elements that are known to us, and since it is very pliable, it is also known to be softer than steel with a melting point of 2070.14 F (1132.3 C) and a boiling point of 6904.4 F. Uranium is used to generate power for nuclear reactors or nuclear power plants, which in turn, generates electricity.

Discovered way back in 1789 by a German scientist, Martin Klaproth, in the mineral pitchblende, which was dubbed the "bad luck rock", it was since given its name after the planet Uranus. If one can remember the periodic table, uranium lies in the inner transitional elements in the f-block and has the atomic number 92 and the simple chemical symbol "U" to denote itself. It is also part of the actinide series, which consists of all the chemical metallic elements from atomic numbers 90 - 103. It has an atomic mass of approximately 238 u. The natural uranium metal occurs in concentrations of two to four parts per million in Earth's rocks and is even found underwater. It is a commonly occurring metal and has had a wide range of uses since its discovery due to its substantial characteristics. Besides the basic nuclear uses uranium has, it is also slightly paramagnetic in nature, which means it is very weakly attracted to any applied magnetic field.

 If you like these facts about the characteristics of uranium, then you're sure to find facts about the characteristics of Mercury and characteristics of Nickel equally interesting!

Characteristics Of Uranium

Uranium is known to be the heaviest naturally occurring element we know in the entire universe, and that is why it is also used for its weight. Uranium ore is first extracted from the earth through deep underground shafts in the mines and mills and sometimes from light open pits, and then the pure uranium is separated from the ore (compound) through a chemical process. The largest uranium reserve in the world is in Kazakhstan, with 335102.6 T (304,000 t) of deposit. The naturally occurring uranium sometimes reacts with the oxygen in the air to create uranium oxides which are uranium compounds. Compounds are substances that are a combination of two or more elements; the most well known uranium compounds are uranium oxide and uranium dioxide. When one atom of oxygen attaches itself to one atom of uranium, it forms uranium oxide. In comparison, when one atom of uranium attaches itself with two oxygen atoms, it forms uranium dioxide ("di" meaning two). Uranium oxide is recycled so that it can be used as an oxide fuel material in a headend process. Uranium dioxide, on the other hand, is used in pressurized water reactors, as well as boiling water reactors of nuclear power plants in the role of fuel.

  • Uranium dioxide is also known as urania. A major uranium ore of uranium dioxide is uraninite, which was formerly known as pitchblende (originally thought to be an element), from which uranium was discovered.
  • Due to uranium being reactive, finely separated, and powdered, uranium is pyrophoric, which means it will catch fire at room temperature.
  • Although uranium is a bad conductor of electricity, it helps to generate it by providing nuclear fuel to nuclear power plants. It does so without releasing harmful greenhouse gases, which makes the cost of maintaining such plants quite cheap.
  • Valency, in chemistry, is the capacity of an element to combine and form compounds, and Uranium has a valency of four 0r six.
  • Uranium can combine with other elements to produce compounds (like uranium oxide), which can be of even more use than just pure uranium. For instance, uranium salts mixed with nitric acid are used for nuclear reprocessing during nuclear power-producing reactions.

Different Isotopes Of Uranium

Every natural element is made up of molecules that are further divided into atoms. In such atoms, there are protons (positively charged particles), electrons (negatively charged particles), and neutrons (particles with no charge). Natural uranium occurs as three major uranium isotopes- Uranium-238, Uranium -235, and Uranium -234. Out of these three naturally occurring isotopes, Uranium-238 is the heaviest one and the one that is most abundantly found all over. It is also the most stable isotope of uranium. Isotopes are two or more forms of the same elements except for the fact that they differ in the number of neutrons they possess but have the same number of protons. So due to the difference in uranium atoms, there are different isotopes. All isotopes of uranium are radioactive in nature, but of all the three major isotopes of uranium, only Uranium-235 is a fissile isotope. All Uranium isotopes further undergo a decaying process to turn into progenies, which are basically many other radioisotopes- meaning they possess radioactive qualities. After the completion of the whole decaying process, these isotopes result in stable isotopes of another element called lead (Pb).

  • Since Uranium-235 is fissile and a radioactive element, it can undergo a nuclear chain reaction and was thus used to make nuclear weapons in history that were used in war.
  • To measure the total amount of radioactivity that occurs as well as to trace the source strength of the radioactivity of the particle, the SI-derived unit becquerel (Bq) is used, named after the scientist who discovered it- Henri Becquerel.
  • The uranium fission and nuclear fission capabilities of the uranium atom were discovered by scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann.
  • This radioactive metal has been used since the old times to make an atomic bomb as it undergoes nuclear fission; the atomic bomb that was dropped by the US on Hiroshima had a uranium base.
  • Due to its radioactive and consequently decaying nature, radium, another radioactive element, is always found with any uranium ore.
  • Plutonium-239, a man-made uranium-238 isotope, was used to make nuclear weapons. A famous example is a bomb, Fat Man, that exploded in Nagasaki.
  • Uranium has the second-highest atomic weight among naturally occurring elements, coming second to plutonium-244.
The most basic and important use of uranium now is as nuclear fuels in power plants.

Health Effects Of Uranium

The reactive, or decaying properties, of uranium do not depend on its boiling or melting point, and this naturally occurring element is not harmful until inhaled, but it does have certain environmental impacts and health effects. The nuclear energy released from the thermal neutrons of this radioactive material when making a nuclear weapon is extremely dangerous to people who are exposed to the radiation, and they might develop a long-term ailment. The World Nuclear Association has, for long, used the radioactive properties of the uranium metal for making nuclear bombs, and the exposure to the fallouts of such nuclear fission can drastically affect the body, either causing immediate effect or developing into a permanent sickness, like lung or skin cancer. It can even affect the environment by polluting it, and the land remains polluted and unusable for years. The uranium mill tailings and the used reactor fuel release toxins which, when coming in any kind of contact with living beings, can contaminate not only humans but lands as well for generations, as seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  • The people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had developed serious injuries due to their exposure to the radioactivity of the uranium-based bombs.
  • Constant exposure to an intense amount of uranium can cause failure in autoimmune functions of the body and cause high blood pressure.
  • The chemical toxicity of the uranium metal is extremely high and hazardous and can cause lung and kidney damage when ingested as well cause liver and bone cancer.
  • The chemical properties of Uranium trioxide are extremely poisonous, which is hexavalent uranium, meaning it has a +6 oxidation state.
  • Inhaling hexavalent uranium can be extremely dangerous because it can cause severe damage to the immune system and can even cause birth defects.
  • New research found that exposure to uranium can also severely affect the brain as well as reproductive functions like adverse effects on estrogenic abilities as well affect future genes in the long term.

Uranium Element Facts

Since its discovery, uranium has been an important element because of its ability to undergo a nuclear chain reaction, and in the present situation, it has a heightened significance because of the fact that over 400 nuclear reactors are there all over the world and all require uranium to produce the energy. The fuel required in these reactors needs a higher concentration of Uranium-235 isotope, and this is called enriched uranium. To obtain this, uranium is enriched with the help of uranium tetrachloride to separate the isotopes, and a by-product is also left, called depleted uranium. The enriched uranium, with high concentrations of the fissile Uranium-235, is used as the fuel while the depleted uranium is left back. However, depleted uranium does not go wasted; it has its own uses. The highly dense depleted uranium is used as a counterbalance weight in missiles and aircraft as well as forklifts and sometimes the keel of a sailboat. Due to its pyrophoric characteristics, it is also used in ammunition and also found use as a radiation shield and to make dental porcelain crowns in the field of medical radiotherapy. After facing a crisis and a drop in demand when treaties were passed stating no more atomic weapons were to be made and used and banned these, uranium saw a steep rise in its demand again in recent years because of being able to be used as a fuel as the world is trying to go carbon-free.

  • While used in the making of ceramics, the uranium glazes come from uranium oxide that provides shine in ceramic and porcelain materials.
  • Although toxic in nature, uranium has a lot of usefulness in our society as it helps with one of the most important things in the world- producing electricity. And with more nuclear-powered reactors being constructed all over the world, uranium is pretty significant now.
  • Uranium hexafluoride is used to produce uranium the most easily and is also used in the process that creates enriched uranium.
  • Uranium is considered a special element because of its revolutionary use in making atom bombs which changed the course of the war and world politics forever.
  • 2.2 lb (1 kg) of uranium-235 can release approximately 80 TJ (19120.46 t of TNT) of energy, which is equal to the energy produced by 3000 T (2721.5 t) of coal.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for characteristics of uranium then why not take a look at characteristics of alkali metals, or characteristics of hydrogen?

Written By
Srija Chanda

<p>An aspiring media professional, Srija is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Mass Communication at St. Xavier's University, Kolkata, after completing her degree in journalism. With experience in PR and social media, she has also honed her leadership skills through her participation in a youth parliament. Srija's interests include devouring books, watching movies, and exploring new places through travel.</p>

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