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    Appearance of Zirconium

    A hard, silvery metal that is very resistant to corrosion.

    Uses of Zirconium

    Zirconium does not absorb neutrons, making it an ideal material for use in nuclear power stations. More than 90% of zirconium is used in this way. Nuclear reactors can have more than 100,000 metres of zirconium alloy tubing. With niobium, zirconium is superconductive at low temperatures and is used to make superconducting magnets.
    Zirconium metal is protected by a thin oxide layer making it exceptionally resistant to corrosion by acids, alkalis and seawater. For this reason it is extensively used by the chemical industry.
    Zirconium(IV) oxide is used in ultra-strong ceramics. It is used to make crucibles that will withstand heat-shock, furnace linings, foundry bricks, abrasives and by the glass and ceramics industries. It is so strong that even scissors and knives can be made from it. It is also used in cosmetics, antiperspirants, food packaging and to make microwave filters.
    Zircon is a natural semi-precious gemstone found in a variety of colours. The most desirable have a golden hue. The element was first discovered in this form, resulting in its name. Cubic zirconia (zirconium oxide) is a synthetic gemstone. The colourless stones, when cut, resemble diamonds.
    Zircon mixed with vanadium or praseodymium makes blue and yellow pigments for glazing pottery.

    Biological Role of Zirconium

    Zirconium has no known biological role. It has low toxicity.

    Natural Abundance of Zirconium

    Zirconium occurs in about 30 mineral species, the major ones being zircon and baddeleyite. More than 1.5 million tonnes of zircon are mined each year, mainly in Australia and South Africa. Most baddeleyite is mined in Brazil.
    Zirconium metal is produced commercially by first converting zircon to zirconium chloride, and then reducing the chloride with magnesium.
    Zirconium Properties 
    Atomic number 40
    Atomic mass 91.22 g.mol -1
    Electronegativity according to Pauling 1.2
    Density 6.49 at 20°C
    Melting point 1852 °C
    Boiling point 4400 °C
    Vanderwaals radius 0.160 nm
    Ionic radius 0.08 nm (+4)
    Isotopes 11
    Electronic shell [ Kr ] 4d2 5s2
    Energy of first ionisation 669 kJ.mol -1
    Energy of second ionisation 1346 kJ.mol -1
    Energy of third ionisation 2312 kJ.mol -1
    Energy of fourth ionisation 3256 kJ.mol -1
    Discovered by Martin Klaproth in 1789

    Applications of Zirconium

    Zirconium is used in alloys such as zircaloy, which is used in nuclear applications since it does not readily absorb neutrons. Also used in catalytic converters, percussion caps and furnace bricks. Baddeleyite and impure zirconium (zirconia) are used in lab crucibles.
    The major end uses of zircon (ZrSiO4) are refractories, ceramic opacification and foundry sands. Zircon is also marketed as a natural gemstone used in jewelry. The metal also has many other uses, among them in photographic flashbulbs and surgical instruments, to make the glass for television, in the removal of residual gases from electronic vacuum tubes, and as a hardening agent in alloys, especially steel. The paper and packaging industries are finding that zirconium compounds make good surface coatings because they have excellent water resistance and strength.

    Health Effects of Zirconium

    Zirconium and its salts generally have low systemic toxicity. The estimated dietary intake is about 50 microg. Most passes through the gut without being adsorbed, and that which is adsorbed tends to accumulate slightly more in the skeleton than in tissue.
    Zirconium 95 is one of the radionuclides involved in atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. It is among the long-lived radionuclides that have produced and will continue to produce increased cancers risk for decades and centuries to come.

    Environmental Effects of Zirconium

    Zirconium is unlikely to present a hazard to the environment.
    While aquatic plants have a rapid uptake of soluble zirconium, land plants have little tendency to adsorb it, and indeed 70% of plants that have been tested showed no zirconium to be present at all.
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