Uranium was first isolated by the French chemist Eugène-Melchior Péligot, in the year 1841. This element was broadly used during the nineteenth century for various purposes like giving the glass a greenish-yellow hue which is also known as vaseline glass. In 1896, scientist Henri Becquerel first discovered its radioactive qualities. This discovery was further researched by Enrico Fermi in 1934. This research helped to discover the nuclear fission caused by uranium isotope U-235.

What is Uranium?

Figure 1: Atomic structure of Uranium

Pumbaa (original work by Greg Robson), Electron shell 092 Uranium, CC BY-SA 2.0 UK

Uranium is a radioactive element that is not very strong in nature. Uranium, is denoted by U and the atomic number of this component is 92. It is a heavy metal that has a high source of concentrated energy. It is a very common element like tin and tungsten and resides in various rocks in a 2-4 ppm concentration. It also has its presence in seawater.

Uranium: Discovery

German chemist Martin Klaproth first discovered uranium in the year 1789. He was scrutinizing pitchblende samples from the Joachimsthal silver mines when he discovered a uranium oxide. The mine was previously located in Bohemia and is presently located in Czechia. Uranium was first called uran by Klaproth. The name of this component was inspired by the planet Uranus.

Chemical Properties of Uranium

The chemical properties of uranium are the following −

  • It belongs to the Actinides group.

  • It is positioned in the 7th period and f-block in the periodic table.

  • The atomic number of this element is 92.

  • This molecule’s state is solid at 20°C.

  • The electronic configuration of uranium is [Rn] 5f36d17s2,

  • Its ChemSpider ID is 22425. It is a free database for chemical structures.

  • The melting point and boiling point of uranium are 1135°C, 2075°F, 1408 K and 4131°C, 7468°F, 4404 K respectively.

  • The density of this element is 19.1 g cm−3.

  • 238.029 is its relative atomic mass.

  • 234U, 235U, 238U are its key isotopes.

  • The CAS number of uranium is 7440-61-1.

Physical Properties of Uranium

The physical properties of uranium are the following −

  • The colour of the pure uranium is silver and it oxidises quickly in the air.

  • Naturally, the uranium ore is a mixture of its two isotopes. U-238 includes the 99.3% ratio and the rest in U-235.

  • Uranium is one of the heaviest naturally occurred elements on the earth depending upon the nuclei mass increase. The water is 18.7 times less dense than uranium.

  • Uranium has a range of isotopes and they exist in different forms.

  • Due to its high density, it can be used as an aircraft control surface counterweight and as a shield from radiation.

  • Almost 6.6 billion years ago uranium first evolved on this earth. It is uncommon in the solar system but it has slow radioactive decay that produces heat. This heat production often causes continental and convection drift.

Uranium: Applications

Figure 2: Applications of Uranium

Uranium is commonly used as a fuel for the generation of electricity in nuclear power reactors. It also produces almost 14% electricity for the world. The other main uses are described below −

  • Medicine: It is used as a radio element and gets injected into the human body to kill cancer cells in a specific organ.

  • Food Industry: It is used to sterilize the container and kill the pests, parasites and bacteria so that the food stays fresh.

  • Space Industry: Astronomers stay away from the sun in space and to produce heat uranium is a great alternative.

  • Industrial Sectors: Uranium gets used in x-ray, metallurgy, aeronautics and automobiles.

  • Culture and History: This component is used in archaeology to measure the age of a particular sample.

Effects of Uranium

The effects of uranium could be divided into three parts.

Effect on Miners

The people who are mining in the uranium mining sites come into direct contact with uranium. The safety measures that are taken for the miners are based on their financial suitability. It is seldom based on public health welfare. There the miners on the mine sites are directly exposed to the radio-isotopes that affect their health.

Effect on the Common People

The hazardous waste from uranium mining pollutes the environment. The consumption of hazardous wastewater or dust can cause common people various deadly diseases including cancer even though they are not directly exposed to it.

Effect on the Environment

The heat produced by uranium and its radioisotopes causes a continental shift. The plants that are grown over the tailing will produce vegetables filled with radioactive substances.


Uranium is rich in radioactive traits and hence is harmful to human health. Uranium was first used in war as a nuclear weapon. However, uranium has some useful applications as well. It can be used as medicine to cure cancer and as a sterilizer to kill bacteria and pests. Some automobile companies have discovered that for ammonia production, uranium worked as a better catalyst than iron. The nitrate of uranium gets used in a photographic toner. 6 or 4 is usually the valence of Uranium.


Q1. How many years does it take for uranium to decay?

Ans. Uranium goes through a very slow radioactive decay. 4.5 billion years is the half-life for the uranium isotope U-238.

Q2. When uranium becomes safe?

Ans. Uranium and the decay products associated with it like thorium-230 and radium-226 will be dangerous and radioactive for more than a thousand years. However, after almost 500 years these products will become low-level radioactive.

Q3. What are the dietary sources of uranium?

Ans. Root vegetables like potatoes and beets have a lot of uranium present in them. Beef, eggs, milk, shellfish and fish also contain uranium.

Q4. Which place is at the top for uranium production?

Ans. Kazakhstan produces the highest amount of uranium in the whole world. In 2019, it produced 43% uranium. After Kazakhstan, Canada and Antarctica produce the highest amount of uranium. Uranium will last up to 80 years from now as per its current usage.

Updated on: 17-Apr-2023


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