Scientists accidentally discover new, stable form of plutonium


The team who discovered the stable new form of plutonium, standing with the ROBL spectrometer that confirmed the findK. Kvashnina/ESRF

A team of scientists has discovered a new, stable form of plutonium – and done so by accident. The famously unstable element is tricky to transport, store and dispose of, but the find could lead to new ways to tackle those problems.

Plutonium is famously unstable, which is of course what makes it both an incredibly powerful source of energy and a potentially-devastating environmental disaster. Some isotopes of plutonium can persist for tens of millions of years, which is bad news if it gets into the groundwater.

Given those stakes, it’s important to learn as much as we can about plutonium, to ensure it’s being created, used, transported, stored and disposed of as safely as possible. Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) were doing just that when they accidentally discovered a new, stable form of plutonium.

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