What is Uranium?

            While reading about various metals, you must have come across the word ‘uranium’. But have you ever thought what uranium is? Uranium is a silvery, radioactive metallic element. It occurs as uranium oxide in the mineral pitchblende.

            It was a German chemist Heinrich Martin Klaprot who discovered uranium in the year 1789 from mineral called pitchblende. He named it ‘uranit’. but after a year, Klaproth changed its name to uranium after the planet Uranus. By the end of the 18th century, scientists had already made many compounds of this element. In 1896, Henry Becquerel discovered radioactivity in uranium.

Nuclear Fission

            Uranium is a shiny white metal, but turns black when it comes in contact with the atmosphere. It is a very heavy metal. The weight of a cubic foot of this metal is approximately half-a-tonne. In the beginning, uranium was used for dyeing silk and porcelain vessels.

            Natural uranium is a mixture of two main istotpes-uranium-238 and uranium-235. 99.27% of the uranium found in nature is uranium-238 and 0.72% is uranium-235.

            Two of its unique properties have enhanced its utility throughout the world. The radioactive rays coming out from the nucleus of a uranium atom are very useful. These rays are sued in agriculture, industries, biology ad medical research. The second use of uranium is in the field of nuclear physics. I 1938, the process of nuclear fission was discovered when the uranium nucleus was bombarded with neutrons. Nuclear fission is the process in which the nucleus of the uranium-235 atom is split into two parts by neutron bombardment ad tremendous energy is produced. Atom bomb was made through this process only in 1945; such bombs were used against Japan in World War II. After the development of the atom bomb, the utility of uranium increased tremendously for peaceful purposes.

            These days, nuclear fission is also used for producing electrical energy. You will be surprised to note that a single pound of uranium produces as much energy as we get from the burning of three million pounds of coal. Therefore, the uranium-235 isotopes are used in nuclear reactors for the production of energy.

            The energy released in the nuclear reactor is used to heat water to make steam. This steam runs the turbines which produce electricity.

            Uranium is also used to absorb X-rays and gamma rays. Its oxides are used as catalysts in some chemical reactions.

            There are four parts of uranium in every one million parts of the earth’s crust. The compounds of uranium are also found in the rocks. Pitchblende is one of the important ores of uranium. Its ores are found in abundance in England, India ad Africa.