Chemical elements

Plutonium Production


The most important Plutonium-239 isotope is produced in nuclear reactors by long term neutron irradiation of natural or enriched uranium. Capturing neutrons Plutonium-239 transmutes into the heavier isotopes with masses 240-242. At the same time Plutonium-238 isotope is brought forth by chain reaction. Regular concentration is 90-95% 239Pu in the mixture, 240Pu - 1-7%, concentrations of other isotopes do not exceed tenths of the percent. Long-lived isotopes, including 244Pu are produced in nuclear reactors by long term neutron irradiation of Plutonium-239 isotope. Meanwhile 242Pu output is several tens %, and 244Pu - less than 1% of 242Pu. The weighs of isotopic pure Plutonium-238 isotope are obtained by neutron bombardment of Neptunium-237. Light isotopes with masses 232-237 are produced by bombardment of uranium in cyclotrons. Isotopes are separated and purified by extraction and sorption. PUREX process is applied as a standard nuclear reprocessing method for the recovery of plutonium from used nuclear fuel. It is based on tributyl phosphate extraction in the light organic solvent. Separation from the fission products is the first step followed by further processing of separation of the heavier plutonium from the uranium. Plutonium metal is recovered from PuF4 or PuCl3 by reduction with calcium or magnesium.

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