Until times became tough and downsizing has been extended even to the nuclear arsenals, not many people were concerned about the origin of plutonium. See, if you have decided to disarm a nuclear warhead stuffed with high-enriched uranium, you can still downblend uranium to its original natural state. When it comes to weapon-grade plutonium, there is no such thing as natural state. The issue with plutonium is that plutonium was never created a natural way, if you know what I mean. Of course you don’t, so let me explain it to you. Uranium comes from the earth, from uranium ore to be precise. Plutonium does not. You cannot find such a thing as plutonium ore. It simply does not exist in nature.
The Plutonium family is very powerful, the majority of them can support chain reaction of nuclear fission. Seventy percent of them can do that. Uranium is not even close to that, because less than one percent of uranium is good for chain reaction. Can you imagine that? All Plutonium-239 guys, down to the smallest nucleus, can release thousands of times more energy than an equal amount of conventional explosive. What a remarkable power of destruction! This is truly supernatural! If you have doubts about the overwhelming power of plutonium, look inside any history textbook and find out what happened to the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Are you scared now? Not yet? Take your time then, because this is only the beginning of the story. But in order for you to fully understand it, let’s step aside and touch a couple of things about depleted uranium.
When it comes to the Depleted Uranium family, this is something that you should know about those guys. First of all, they all believe in a glorious death. Maybe they took that from ancient Romans. I don’t know. But, since they spend most of their time inside a nuclear waste facility, the preparation to death becomes more important for them than life itself. The same is true for depleted uranium penetrators. All DU penetrators believe in a short and victorious military career with a heroic death at the end of it. Instead, when the military service is over, the majority of them will have twenty five years of misery. Buried into the ground DU penetrators will find a slow meaningless death from corrosion.
The second big thing about depleted uranium guys is that they are weight watchers. I am not kidding. No jokes about this subject between uranium guys. Let me explain it to you. Depleted uranium guys are heavy. This is natural for them. All of them are husky and dense. Their atomic weight is 238. But, if they only could drop their weight from 238 down to 235, they would be able to support chain reactions, and no one would ever dare to call them “depleted” again, because light weighted geniuses with an atomic weight of 235 are welcome everywhere from nuclear power plants to atomic submarines and nuclear missile silos.
That is why depleted uranium guys all are weight watchers or, rather, atomic weight watchers. Unfortunately for them they have many more chances to gain some weight than lose it. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Anyway, one day scientists stopped by to introduce a new research program, and an amazing story was told. The story had all the right elements in it, starting from a glorious death, and a better life afterwards, to the ability to support chain reaction. On top of everything, for everybody who would participate in this program, a new identity was promised.
Actually it was nothing new. Every time, when scientists are in trouble, they come to us for help. A big need for new and improved armor projectiles arises, and depleted uranium is here to help. By the way this is how I found my niche. But this story, that I am talking about now, happened a long time before that, way back in 1940. Of course guys were excited, and they jumped into the program or actually right into a reactor.
What happened to them next? They were secured inside a fast breeder reactor waiting for a promised miracle… Trust me, there was no miracle here, only an awful death from overweighting. But at first, let me ask you a question. How would you feel, if a neutron would run into you with the speed of seven thousands miles per second? For some reason I think you would feel not good. And this is exactly what happened to the poor depleted uranium guys. They were locked inside the fast breeder reactor and bombarded by fast neutrons. Nothing they could do would stop that… Scientists continue to do the same thing even today.
What it takes is just one extra neutron. When this free neutron is absorbed by the depleted uranium body, Uranium-238 becomes a little bit heavier. Not by much, but just enough to become Uranium-239. Visually nothing is changed, but at this very moment his life shortens from a thousand years to forty six minutes. In less than an hour with his last exhalation the depleted uranium guy sends out an electron. This is it, he has decayed now. Doesn’t sound like a glorious death, does it? At least it doesn’t for me.
But wait a second. This is some afterlife deal too. Decayed Uranium-239 turns into Neptunium-239, which would never see the light of a day outside the fast breeder reactor. His life span is one hundred twelve hours. Neptunium will die in less than five days. When he decays, a new element is born. The fast breeder reactor has accomplished its mission.
This new element is Plutonium-239. The final element has the traits desired by everyone. He inherited from his distinctive uranium relatives an ability to sustain a chain reaction of nuclear fission. This fact makes him perfect for a military career in nuclear warheads. And he will live happily ever after or at least to 2018. This is when full scale weapon-grade plutonium disposal will start. Didn’t you hear about the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement between the USA and Russian Federation? Thirty four metric tons of Plutonium from seventeen thousands warheads will be annihilated. They came from nowhere… They will go back to nowhere. I can’t wait to see that happen. End of the story.