Uranium has existed on the earth for billions of years, but until man tried to make an atomic bomb and use atomic energy, most people did not know it existed. Uranium is a metal, an ore, and one of the heaviest elements. Uranium is actually more common on the earth’s surface than mercury or silver. And it has been found in rich deposits in many different places, including Zaire, Canada, the United States, and Russia.
When you look at clean, pure uranium metal, it is as shiny as silver. But after a few minutes of exposure to air, the uranium surface becomes dull and tums brown. The film that forms is uranium and oxygen —and it serves to protect the metal underneath.
The biggest difference between uranium and other metals is that uranium has natural radioactivity. This means the metal slowly changes by giving off certain rays that come out of the atom of the uranium. They are called alpha, beta, and gamma rays.
By giving off radiation, the uranium atom changes and becomes an- other radioactive element. This element in turn changes by giving off more radiation. And this process goes on as long as a radioactive element is left.
There are 14 steps in this series. One of the steps produces radium, and the last one produces lead. After that the series is ended, because lead is not radioactive. To change from uranium to lead in nature takes billions of years.
The uranium used in atomic bombs or in reactors for atomic energy is U-235. It is one of the natural forms of uranium, and is called an “iso-tope”. Plutonium, which is also used in atomic energy, is a man-made product of uranium.
What Is Uranium Used For?
Uranium is a very important element because it provides us with nuclear fuel used to generate electricity in nuclear power stations. It is also the major material from which other synthetic transuranium elements are made.