Beryllium Uses

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Beryllium is commonly used in nuclear reactors.

People exposed to high levels of beryllium have experienced lung damage and have an increased risk for lung cancer. Globalsecurity.org explains that beryllium usually stays bound to soil particles instead of water molecules when buried deep beneath surface soil. As a result, it's unlikely that buried beryllium will be carried up to the surface of the earth by water. Manufacturing of beryllium increased drastically during the 1980s, according to the EPA.

  1. Nuclear Weapons

    • Beryllium is used as reflector material (pit liner) and thermonuclear primaries in the majority of modern nuclear weapons in the United States, according to NuclearActive.org. The beryllium pit liner sends neutrons back towards the plutonium pit, helps increase explosion force and generates additional neutrons. If more neutrons are released upon detonation, critical mass is increased, which increases the destructive power of the weapon.

    Lime Softening

    • Beryllium is used in the process of lime softening, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. The disadvantage of using beryllium for lime softening are that high volumes of toxic beryllium sludge are produced and chemical handling of beryllium during the manufacturing process is dangerous. The advantages of using beryllium for lime softening are the low pretreatment requirements and the reliability of the process.

    Oxide in Electrical Equipment

    • Beryllium has been used as an oxide in electrical equipment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beryllium oxide is an excellent electric insulator and has high thermal conductivity, which makes it perfect for making electric semiconductor parts. Beryllium is sometimes used in microwave ovens at low levels.

    Space Vehicles

    • Beryllium is commonly used in the manufacturing of aircraft disc brakes. The strength of the material helps protect disc brakes when exposed to high temperatures involved in space travel.

    Vehicle Armor

    • Beryllium has been used to produce high strength vehicle armor. Beryllium cooper is a less dangerous form of the compound and is an extremely high strength alloy, according to the Minor Metals Trade Association.

    Gyroscopes

    • Beryllium is used in gyroscopes, according to the West Virginia Geologic and Economic Survey. The gyroscope was invented in 1852 by Leon Foucault, a French experimental physicist. Gyroscopes are used to measure orientation and are basically a spinning wheel with an axle that’s free to take any position. The devices are used in the Hubble Space Telescope because magnetic compasses don’t work in space, according to NASA.

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  • Photo Credit nuclear power station 4 image by Vitezslav Halamka from Fotolia.com

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