U for Uranium, The cold war metal

Uranium is a chemical element with symbol U and atomic number 92. It is a silvery-white metal in the actinide series of the periodic table. The 1789 discovery of uranium in the mineral pitchblende is credited to Martin Heinrich Klaproth, who named the new element after the planet Uranus.

Eugène-Melchior Péligot was the first person to isolate the metal and its radioactive properties were discovered in 1896 by Henri Becquerel. Research by Enrico Fermi and others, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer starting in 1934 led to its use as a fuel in the nuclear power industry and in Little Boy, the first nuclear weapon used in war.

An ensuing arms race during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union produced tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that used uranium metal and uranium-derived plutonium-239.

Uranium has been in use as far back as ancient Rome and during the Middle Ages when its orange-red to lemon-yellow shades were used as coloring agents in ceramic glazes and glass.

Uranium-235 is the most important uranium isotope for the creation of nuclear reactors and weapons because it is the only naturally occurring isotope that is fissile (meaning it can be split into 2 or 3 fission fragments by thermal neutrons).

The military uses uranium when making special ammunition. It helps make bullets and larger projectiles hard and dense enough to punch through armor.

Uranium is used as fuel for nuclear power plants. One kilogram of uranium-235 has the capacity to produce as much energy as 1,500,000 kilograms (1,500 tonnes) of coal.

Over 33% of the world’s uranium is mined in Kazakhstan.

References: wikipedia.org, chemicool.com


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