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Plutonium(IV) oxide
IUPAC name
Other names Plutonium dioxide
CAS number 12059-95-9 Yes check.svgY
Molecular formula PuO2
Molar mass 276.06 g/mol
Appearance Yellow-brown solid.
Density 11.5 g/cm3
Melting point

~2400 °C

Boiling point

~2800 °C

Solubility in water insoluble
Crystal structure Fluorite (cubic), cF12
Space group Fm3m, No. 225
Tetrahedral (O2–); cubic (PuIV)
Main hazards RADIOACTIVE
Flash point Non-flammable
Related compounds
Related compounds Uranium(IV) oxide
Neptunium(IV) oxide
Americium(IV) oxide
 Yes check.svgY (what is this?)  (verify)
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Infobox references

Plutonium(IV) oxide is the chemical compound with the formula PuO2. This high melting point solid is a principal compound of plutonium. It can vary in color from yellow to olive green, depending on the particle size, temperature and method of production.[1]



PuO2 crystallizes in the fluorite motif, with the Pu4+ centers organized in a face-centered cubic array and oxide ions occupying tetrahedral holes.[2] PuO2 owes utility as a nuclear fuel to the fact that vacancies in the octahedral holes allows room for fissile products. In nuclear fission, one atom of plutonium splits into two. The vacancy of the octahedral holes provides room for the new product and allows the PuO2 monolith to retain its structural integrity.


Plutonium metal spontaneously oxidizes to PuO2 in an atmosphere of oxygen. Plutonium dioxide is mainly produced by calcination of plutonium(IV) oxalate, Pu(C2O4)2·6H2O, at 300 °C. Plutonium oxalate is obtained during the reprocessing of nuclear fuel.


PuO2 glow through the isotope plutonium-238 in it.

PuO2 is used in mixed oxide (MOX) fuels for nuclear reactors. Plutonium-238 dioxide is used as fuel for several deep-space spacecraft such as the 'New Horizons' Pluto probe. The isotope decays by emitting α-particles which then generate heat (see radioisotope thermoelectric generator). There have been some safety concerns, as an accidental orbital earth re-entry may lead to the break-up and/or burn-up of the spacecraft, resulting in the dispersal of the plutonium, either over a large tract of the planetary surface or within the upper atmosphere.

Physicist Peter Zimmerman, following up a suggestion by Ted Taylor (physicist), demonstrated that a low-yield (1-kiloton) nuclear bomb could be made relatively easily from plutonium oxide.[3]


As with all plutonium compounds, it is subject to control under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Due to the radioactive alpha decay of plutonium, all of its compounds, PuO2 included, as well as plutonium metal, are warm to the touch. Plutonium is highly toxic to humans, especially via inhalation.[4]

See also


  1. ^ "Nitric acid processing". Los Alamos Laboratory.  
  2. ^ Greenwood, Norman N.; Earnshaw, A. (1984), Chemistry of the Elements, Oxford: Pergamon, p. 1471, ISBN 0-08-022057-6  
  3. ^ Michael Singer, David Weir, and Barbara Newman Canfield (Nov. 26, 1979). "Nuclear Nightmare: America's Worst Fear Come True". New York Magazine.  
  4. ^ "Toxicological Profile For Plutonium". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2009-04-23.  

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