Element 92 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is uranium. Uranium fuels nuclear power plants and has also been used in nuclear bombs and armour-piercing weaponry.
Uranium fuels nuclear power plants – there’s more on how they work here. The energy density of uranium is pretty high – a single kilogram of uranium produces as much energy as 1.5 million kilograms of coal. It’s also doesn’t produce the carbon dioxide emissions that coal does, though it does instead pose the problem of nuclear waste disposal.
Depleted uranium, produced as a byproduct of the production of enriched uranium for nuclear power and weapons, is used for a variety of purposes, including shielding, and armour-piercing weaponry. More surprisingly, it’s also been used as the keel of a boat.
Enriched uranium, used in nuclear reactors, can also be used in nuclear weapons. The first nuclear bomb used in World War II, dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, used 64 kilograms of enriched uranium. The nuclear bomb later dropped on Nagasaki used plutonium as nuclear fuel.
Away from warfare, uranium has also been used in glass-making. Glass containing oxide diuranates has a yellow or green appearance and fluoresces green under ultraviolet light.
Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.