For stability

Published: Friday 31 March 2000

Solid plutonium oxide, of the kind used in nuclear reactors and warheads, was till recently believed to be the most stable form of plutonium. But now scientists have discovered that water can oxidise plutonium oxide and make it more soluble. Last year, they discovered that trace amounts of plutonium oxide stored in a cavern in Nevada, USA, had travelled more than a kilometre. Based on what was believed about the reactivity of this deadly chemical, it should not have been able to travel more than 10 metres. Scientists are now finding out the reason, which could have an impact on storage strategies for nuclear waste ( Science , Vol 287, No 5451).

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