Published Online: 15 DEC 2011
Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Encyclopedia of Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry
How to Cite
Neu, M. P., Goff, G. S. and Runde, W. 2011. Plutonium: Radionuclides. Encyclopedia of Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry. .
- Published Online: 15 DEC 2011
Plutonium is the most debated actinide element because of its dual use in devastating nuclear weapons and beneficial generation of nuclear energy. Plutonium metal exists in several allotropic phases and plutonium in solution exhibits a rich and complex chemistry. The ability to exist in up to four oxidation states makes plutonium unique among all elements. Pu(III) and Pu(VI) form only under reducing or oxidizing conditions, respectively; whereas Pu(IV) and Pu(V) have broad stability ranges within the geochemical bounds of environmental systems. When Pu(IV) is above trace concentration and particulate matter is present, then solids or suspended colloids are the predominant chemical forms. In contrast, Pu(V), as PuO, has relatively higher solubility as an aquo species or a monomeric complex of natural ligands (hydroxide, chloride, sulfate, etc.). Stronger complexing, polydentate ligands, such as carbonate and organics, tend to increase plutonium solubility by forming very stable Pu(IV) complexes. Minerals, high molecular weight organic matter, and bacteria can either increase or decrease the solubility of plutonium, depending upon their chemical properties, mechanisms of interaction, and the geochemical conditions of the surrounding environment. Plutonium generally has very low solubility, low mobility, and few health consequences from environmental forms, and therefore poses little risk to living systems under nearly all conditions. This article provides a brief overview of the chemistry and behavior of plutonium in aqueous solutions and in the environment.