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Last updated date: 17th Jul 2024
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What is Tritium?

Do You Know the Tritium Meaning?

Tritium, often known as hydrogen-3 ( tritium symbol T or 3H), is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is extremely rare. Tritium (also known as a triton) has one proton and two neutrons in its nucleus, whereas the common isotope hydrogen-1 (protium) has only one proton and hydrogen-2 (deuterium) has one proton and one neutron in its nucleus.

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Tritium Atomic Number-1

Tritium formula-3H

Tritium atomic mass(Mass of tritium)-3.016amu

As we already discussed the Tritium atomic number and mass of tritium, now we will study the properties and applications of tritium.

History of Tritium

After bombarding deuterium with deuterons, Ernest Rutherford, Mark Oliphant, and Paul Harteck discovered tritium in 1934. (a proton and neutron, comprising a deuterium nucleus). Another hydrogen isotope is deuterium. Their work, however, was unsuccessful in isolating tritium, which was later completed by Luis Alvarez and Robert Cornog, who also discovered tritium's radioactivity. Tritium could be utilised for radiometric dating of water and wine, according to Willard F. Libby.

Production of Tritium

1. Lithium 

Lithium-6 is most commonly activated by neutrons in nuclear reactors to produce tritium. Within ceramics known as breeder ceramics, the release and diffusion of tritium and helium generated by lithium fission can occur. In such breeder ceramics, the generation of tritium from lithium-6 is achievable with neutrons of any energy, and it is an exothermic reaction with a 4.8 MeV yield.

3Li6+ n 2He4 (2.05MeV) + 1T3 (2.75MeV)

2. Boron 

When high-energy neutrons irradiate boron-10, tritium is occasionally produced.

5B10 + n 2He4 + 1T3

3. Deuterium

When a deuterium nucleus captures a neutron in a heavy water-moderated reactor, tritium is created. Because the absorption cross-section of this reaction is quite tiny, heavy water serves as an excellent neutron moderator, and only a little amount of tritium is created. Even yet, after a few years, cleaning the tritium from the moderator may be necessary to decrease the chance of it escaping into the environment. The "Tritium Removal Facility" at Ontario Power Generation handles up to 2,500 tonnes (2,500 long tonnes; 2,800 short tonnes) of heavy water per year, separating out around 2.5 kilogrammes (5.5 lb) of tritium for other applications.

4. Fission

Tritium is a rare byproduct of nuclear fission of uranium-235, plutonium-239, and uranium-233, with just one atom, produced every 10,000 fissions. In the functioning of nuclear reactors, especially in the reprocessing of nuclear fuels and the storage of spent nuclear fuel, the release or recovery of tritium must be considered. Tritium production is not a goal, but rather a byproduct. Some nuclear power reactors release minor amounts of it into the atmosphere.

Properties of Tritium

  1. Protons are the sole electrically charged particles in all atomic nuclei. As a result, they repel one another since like charges repel one another. If the temperature and pressure are high enough (for example, at the Sun's core), the atoms' random movements can overcome the electrical repulsion (known as the Coulomb force) and bring them near enough for the strong nuclear force to take effect, fusing them into heavier atoms.

  2. When brought close to another atomic nucleus, the tritium nucleus, which has one proton and two neutrons, has the same charge as regular hydrogen's nucleus and suffers the same electrostatic repelling force. When placed close enough to another atomic nucleus, however, the neutrons in the tritium nucleus boost the attractive strong nuclear force. As a result, tritium can fuse with other light atoms more easily than regular hydrogen

  3. Tritium, like the other hydrogen isotopes, is difficult to contain. Rubber, plastic, and certain types of steel are all permeable in some way. This has sparked fears that using huge amounts of tritium, particularly for fusion reactors, could lead to radioactive pollution, despite the fact that its short half-life should preclude considerable long-term buildup in the atmosphere.

  4. Tritium is a radioactive isotope that is extremely rare on Earth. The interaction of the atmosphere's gases with cosmic rays produces only trace amounts. It is a low-abundance byproduct of regular nuclear reactor operations and can be created artificially by irradiating lithium metal or lithium-bearing ceramic pebbles in a nuclear reactor.

Tritium Uses 

  1. Oceanographers found the high levels of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing that occurred previous to the ratification of the Partial Test Ban Treaty to be unexpectedly useful. The high quantities of tritium oxide released into the upper layers of the oceans have been used to measure the rate of mixing between the upper and lower layers of the seas.

  2. Tritium is frequently used to indicate hydrogen in biology, and hence in metabolic research. We were able to reduce the biological half-life inside the human body to between 6 to 9 days as a result of this.

  3. In everyday life, tritium has taken the position of radium in the production of luminous dials for watches and navigational devices.

  4. Tritium can be discovered in the radioactive waste produced by reprocessing plants and military sites because it can be formed by ternary fission processes (which are rather infrequent) in reactor core nuclear fuel.

  5. The thermonuclear reaction that releases the most energy is the fusion reaction of deuterium and tritium. In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union exploited this reaction to test thermonuclear bombs, also known as H-weapons, which are far more powerful and lethal than fission-based atomic bombs. These tests resulted in a substantial amount of contamination at nuclear test sites.

Health Effects

Tritium is a hydrogen isotope that may easily bond to hydroxyl radicals and carbon atoms, generating tritiated water (HTO). Tritium is not dangerous when inhaled, consumed via food or water, or absorbed through the skin since it is a low-energy beta emitter (its beta particles cannot penetrate the skin). However, it can be a radiation hazard when inhaled, ingested by food or water, or absorbed through the skin. HTO has a biological half-life of 7 to 14 days in the human body, which lowers the total effects of a single incidence of ingestion while also preventing long-term bioaccumulation of HTO in the environment.

The biological half-life of tritiated water in the human body, which is a measure of body water turnover, fluctuates seasonally. In a coastal location of Karnataka, India, studies on the biological half-life of occupational radiation workers for free water tritium demonstrate that the biological half-life in the winter season is twice that of the summer season.

Did You Know?

Tritium, like hydrogen, is a highly mobile element. Because it can interact with oxygen to generate tritiated water, it can easily enter the human body thanks to the water cycle. Tritium can cause internal exposure once within the body, though the element is quickly eliminated. It has a biological half-life of 10 days which is far less than its radioactive half-life of 12.3 years. While remaining inside the human body, only one tritium nucleus out of 650 will disintegrate. The beta electron flight will only be a few microns inside the body due to the low emission energy.

FAQs on Tritium

1. Is Tritium a Harmful Substance?

Ans: Tritium has no chemically harmful effects, and the only risk to human health is due to its ability to release ionising radiation (the beta particle). The risk of developing cancer during one's lifetime may be somewhat increased as a result of this radiation exposure.

2. Why is Tritium Prohibited?

Ans: Tritium does not generate light; instead, it activates phosphors, which produces light. All of the above things can be lawfully sold in the United States due to U.S. restrictions on radioactive substances, as makers of such products require specific authorization in order to incorporate tritium into their products.

3. Is Tritium a Radioactive Isotope?

Ans: Tritium is radioactive and has a half-life of approximately 12.5 years, meaning that half of the radioactive atoms will naturally decay during that time. Tritium can exist as a gas under some conditions, but it is more commonly found as a liquid because, like hydrogen, it combines with oxygen to generate water.