Description: Plutonium is one of the principal materials of both commercial and military nuclear power. It is produced primarily in fission reactors that contain uranium fuel, and its importance arises from the fact that a large portion of the plutonium produced is fissile: like uranium 235, the mass 239 and 241 isotopes of plutonium can be caused to fission by neutrons, including those with low energy. Because such fission events also release neutrons, substantial amounts of energy can be extracted from plutonium in a controlled or an explosive nuclear chain reaction. Now that commercial nuclear reactors provide a noticeable fraction of United States (and world) electrical energy, these reactors account for most plutonium production. For the most part, this material now remains in the irradiated fuel after removal from reactors, but should this fuel be reprocessed, the plutonium could be recycled to provide part and even most of the fissile content of fresh fuel. For the current generation of water-cooled reactors, the amount of plutonium to be recycled is substantial. In fast breeder reactors, designed to produce more fissile material than they destroy, considerably larger quantities of plutonium would be recycled. In other types of advanced reactors, particularly those which depend heavily on thorium as the material from which fissile material (primarily uranium 233) is produced, the amount of plutonium to be handled would be considerably reduced. Because plutonium is a highly toxic substance, great care is taken to contain it at the sites and facilities where it is stored or handled. In addition, it is necessary that devices be available to monitor any releases from these facilities into environmental media and to measure concentrations of plutonium in these media. The radiation protection standards are so strict for plutonium that only small releases and low concentrations can be tolerated. Such considerations, ...
Date: July 1, 1978
Creator: Nero, A. V., Jr.
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Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department