Uranium (U) is a silver-gray metal and occupies 92 cells in the periodic table of chemical elements.
It is found in nature as U-238 (99%), U-235 (0.7%), U-234 (less than 0.006%).
Uranium has the highest atomic weight among the elements that arose first. Its density (19.1g /cc) is approximately 60% higher than of lead (11.34 g/cc) and slightly lower than of gold and tungsten (19.3 g/cc). A piece of U the size of a tin can weigh about 7 kg.
Due to its properties, Uranium has become widespread in both the military and civilian industries.
The main use of Uranium in the military sector
Another application is protective material for containers used to transport radioactive substances.
In the later stages of World War II, to a lesser extent after it, U-235 was used as a component of nuclear weapons. Later, it was replaced by plutonium, on the basis of which much more powerful bombs can be built.
For the civilian sector, uranium is used mainly as a source of thermal energy in nuclear power plants.
One kilogram of uranium-235 theoretically produces about 20 terajoules with full fission, the same amount of energy can be obtained from 1.5 million kilograms of coal.
In addition, Uranium is used as a dye in the glass industry.
The main scientific and practical application of U is the estimation of the age of the most ancient igneous rocks and many other types of radiometric dating.
The main world producers of uranium are Kazakhstan (39%), Canada (22%), Australia (10%), Namibia (7.1%), Nigeria (5.8%), Russia (4.9%).
Is it safe to hold a piece of uranium with bare hands?
Uranium, almost entirely consisting of uranium-238, is called depleted. Uranium-238 has a half-life of about 4,460,000,000 years, that is, very few atoms decay in a short time. When Uranium decays, alpha particles are released.
Alpha particles released from within a piece cannot pass through dense material. And those few particles released from the surface do not penetrate even through the skin. For a short contact time, a dangerous dose of radiation cannot be accumulated. Powdered uranium oxides are much more dangerous. If ingested, they can cause serious negative consequences.
Uranium with a content of more than 85% of uranium-235 is called enriching. However, the half-life of uranium-235 is also quite long and amounts to more than 700 million years.
Of course, the man in the process of evolution has developed some tolerance to the Uranium. For example, we eat about 1.1 micrograms of uranium per day along with the food we consume. Uranium has a high content in the earth’s crust and groundwater, which ultimately ends up in meat and vegetables.
Nevertheless, there is no point in neglecting safety; it is better to use gloves.