Monday, December 30, 2013

Plutonium and the movie: Pu-239

Plutonium is one of the actinides and it was discovered by Glenn T.Seaborg and his team in 1941. Neptunium was named after Neptune (the first planet beyond Uranus) and therefore plutonium was named after Pluto (the second (ex)planet beyond Uranus).
At first, the amount of the plutonium produced was too little to record the mass. The first recorded mass of a plutonium compound was 2.77 micrograms.  Shortly after its discovery, it was realized that one isotope of plutonium can undergo a nuclear chain reaction and it could be used in making an atomic bomb. This isotope was Plutonium 239. So, Plutonium Project started under the pseudonym of Metallurgical Project. This lead to a process of producing huge amounts of plutonium and finally, in 1945  a plutonium containing nuclear weapon, Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki killing 70000 people.
Today, plutonium is mostly used in nuclear power plants.
A few months ago, I watched a movie called Pu-239.
----Spoiler alert!----
Pu-239 is a striking movie in several aspects. First of all, it is a love story. A man (Timofey) has been exposed to plutonium and knows he will die soon.  The administrative staff of the plant wants to cover the leak. So, they try to buy him off. Having no other option than stealing some plutonium from his work to help his family, he leaves for Moscow to find a buyer.
Secondly, it is a story of corruption. The movie takes place in Russia at a time when mobs rule the cities, businesses. It's a period of poverty. The market scene and later a robbery clearly shows the socio-economic status of the city or country.
Finally, it is a wonderful movie because it has chemistry in it! I also love the script, because right after the scientific entries, there are very deep sentences. There is also a reference to Radium Girls.
"Light is a particle and a wave...Women, children and light can be two things at once; a particle, a wave. They ricochet off the hard surfaces and illuminate the corners. Without them it would be far darker."
"An element loses a particle and becomes unstable. A chain reaction is set in motion. Pulsing waves of desperation in every direction.Perhaps the lost part is clarity or hope."
"Are you aware of the radiological effects on living organisms? Protons cut through your DNA rewriting your genetic code."
"Uranium, Neptunium, Plutonium. They came from space; found their way here by comet and meteorite. No child ever wished this from a star. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl. Problems with half-lives forty-thousand years long. "
" In the end, everything decays to lead, number eighty-two on the periodic table. All of the brilliant things born in the center of stars will have turned cold and gray. Everything is moving in that direction. Toward lead. Impossible to stop."
I strongly suggest that you should watch this movie. I can not think of one single chemist that won't like it. It is a shame that this movie is not widely known and the imdb rating of  6.8 is another reason for me to hate populism.

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