Elements main page

Uranium, U, 92, is the heaviest naturally occuring element, and is very well known as a nuclear fuel for explosives and reactors.

In truth, uranium is quite common in nature, and can be found almost anyplace on the planet, however, the only useful part of uranium to humanity tends to be the bits that can explode or heat up, and that's the isotopes U-234 and U-235(numbers refering to the total atomic weight, see Radioactivity for more info). Unfortunetly, uranium you dig out of the ground has less than 2% of these valuable isotopes, the rest being U-238, which is fairly useless.

Because isotopes have very nearly similar chemistry, it is very difficult to separate them. The main method used today is converting natural uranium into uranium hexafluoride, which is a gas, and then spinning the gas very fast, causing the slightly heavier atoms of U-238 to move to the outside, and the lighter U-234 and U-235 remain in the middle, where they can be taken out, and purified again, and again, and hundreds of times again, this continues until you get pure enough U-234 and 235 to be considered useful. For bombs, you need about 90%, which is amazingly pure for isotopic purification, and you only need higher than about 30% to be useful in reactors. This entire process is extremely expensive and difficult to engineer, which is quite lucky, because otherwise our entire planet would be perpetually in nuclear war.

Before all this bombs and radioactive stuff was known about, uranium was used as a peaceful dye, used to color glass and ceramics. Certain uranium oxides mixed with glass give it a nice green color, and UO3 oxide can be used as a glaze for a beautiful bright orange. Uranium nitrate can also be used for photographic prints, known as "uranotypes" which came out orange and white(instead of black and white), but silver nitrate proved much easier, so it was never a popular method.

These are my samples!

Depleted Uranium 30mm Shell

This is the sadly empty shell from what was once a 30mm depleted uranium kinetic penetrator (which basically means something SO HEAVY it can punch holes in even thick armor with ease). If you enlarge the photo you can see that it says "depleted uranium" right on the side! I tested it for radioactivity, there seems to be none left behind...

Date added(year-month-day):20120511, sample number:101

Tags(Elements in sample):uranium

Vacuum Tube With Uranium AND Mercury

This most unusual vacuum tube, which serves as a rectifier for high voltage AC electricity, happens to also contain mercury, which vaporizes inside to help the almost-vacuum conduct a little better, and also employs uranium glass in the seals between metal and glass, because adding uranium slightly changes how the glass expands, so by having uranium glass between normal glass and metal, you can avoid the glass cracking/the metal falling out. Quite an unusual piece, a rare combination of three of my favorite things!

Date added(year-month-day):20111012, sample number:74

Tags(Elements in sample):uranium, mercury, vacuum, radioactive

Uranium Ore, Mined by Me!

This is some uranium ore, being mostly magnetite (iron ore) with a small percentage of uranothorite (uranium and thorium ore) mixed in, that I actually chipped off of a rock wall in a public park in a non-disclosed location... It felt good to actually find uranium just sitting around for anyone to grab, really makes you realize how common radioactivity is on Earth!

Date added(year-month-day):20111012, sample number:73

Tags(Elements in sample):uranium, radioactive

Mineral Kit, With Real Uranium Ore!

This nifty little mineral kit from some time in the 1950s, which unfortunately was a bit broken when I got it, and I originally thought the precious uranium ore was missing, however upon being exposed to short-wave UV light, one of the mineral samples had green fluorescent specks in it, thus proving it to be Autunite, a well known uranium mineral. Also for a laugh, check out what the booklet has to say about radium!

Date added(year-month-day):20111012, sample number:72

Tags(Elements in sample):uranium, radioactive

Uranium Glaze

Before 1943 when uranium found use in nuclear weapons and power, uranium was one of the world's favorite coloring agents, capable of making beautiful yellows, oranges, greens, even dark green and blacks. It was also cheap and plentiful because the radium industry created almost a ton of uranium as a byproduct for a GRAM of radium. This is a typical uranium-orange colored glaze, found on a miniature pitcher, probably from a little tea set. My first piece of orange glazed ceramics.

Date added(year-month-day):20110727, sample number:42

Tags(Elements in sample):uranium, radioactive

Elements main page