An ampoule containing solidified pieces of a
FLiBe and uranium-233 tetrafluoride mixture
Full table
Name, symbol
Neutrons 141
Protons 92
Nuclide data
Half-life 159,200 years
Parent isotopes
Pu (α)
Np (β
Pa (β

Decay products
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Uranium-233 is a fissile isotope of uranium that is bred from
thorium-232 as part of the thorium fuel cycle. Uranium-233 was
investigated for use in nuclear weapons and as a reactor fuel;
however, it was never deployed in nuclear weapons or used
commercially as a nuclear fuel.
It has been used successfully in
experimental nuclear reactors and has been proposed for much wider
use as a nuclear fuel. It has a half-life of 159,200 years.
Uranium-233 is produced by the neutron irradiation of thorium-232.
When thorium-232 absorbs a neutron, it becomes thorium-233,
which has a half-life of only 22 minutes. Thorium-233 decays into
protactinium-233 through beta decay. Protactinium-233 has a
half-life of 27 days and beta decays into uranium-233; some
proposed molten salt reactor designs attempt to physically isolate the
protactinium from further neutron capture before beta decay can
U usually fissions on neutron absorption but sometimes retains
the neutron, becoming uranium-234. The capture-to-fission ratio is
smaller than the other two major fissile fuels uranium-235 and
plutonium-239; it is also lower than that of short-lived
plutonium-241, but bested by very difficult-to-produce
1 Fissile material
2 Nuclear fuel
2.1 Energy released
3 Weapon material
3.1 U-232 impurity
4 Further information
5 See also
6 Notes
In 1946 the public first became informed of U-233 bred from thorium as "a third available source of nuclear
energy and atom bombs" (in addition to U-235 and Pu-239), following a United Nations report and a speech by
Glenn T. Seaborg.
The United States produced, over the course of the Cold War, approximately 2 metric tons of uranium-233, in
Uranium-233 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-233
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Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment
Shippingport Atomic Power Station
German THTR-300
varying levels of chemical and isotopic purity.
These were produced at
the Hanford Site and Savannah River Site in reactors that were designed
for the production of plutonium-239.
Historical production costs,
estimated from the costs of plutonium production, were 2–4 million
USD/kg. There are few reactors remaining in the world with significant
capabilities to produce more uranium-233.
Uranium-233 has been used as a fuel in several different reactor types,
and is proposed as a fuel for several new designs (see Thorium fuel
cycle), all of which breed it from thorium. Uranium-233 can be bred in
either fast reactors or thermal reactors, unlike the uranium-238-based
fuel cycles which require the superior neutron economy of a fast reactor
in order to breed plutonium, that is, to produce more fissile material than
is consumed.
The long-term strategy of the nuclear power program of India, which has
substantial thorium reserves, is to move to a nuclear program breeding
uranium-233 from thorium feedstock.
Energy released
The fission of one atom of U-233 generates 197.9 MeV = 3.171 × 10
J, i.e. 19.09 TJ/mol = 81.95 TJ/kg.
Average energy
Instantaneously released energy
Kinetic energy of fission fragments 168.2
Kinetic energy of prompt neutrons 4.9
Energy carried by prompt γ-rays 7.7
Energy from decaying fission products
Energy of β−-particles 5.2
Energy of anti-neutrinos 6.9
Energy of delayed γ-rays 5.0
Sum, less escaping anti-neutrinos 191.0
Energy released when those prompt neutrons which
don't (re)produce fission are captured
Energy converted into heat in an operating thermal
nuclear reactor
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The first detonation of a nuclear bomb
that included U-233, on 15 April
As a potential weapon material pure uranium-233 is more similar to
plutonium-239 than uranium-235 in terms of source (bred vs natural),
half-life and critical mass, though its critical mass is still about 50%
larger than for plutonium-239. The main difference is the unavoidable
co-presence of uranium-232
which can make uranium-233 very
dangerous to work on and quite easy to detect.
While it is thus possible to use uranium-233 as the fissile material of a
nuclear weapon, speculation
aside, there is little publicly available
information on this isotope actually having been weaponized. The United
States detonated an experimental device in the 1955 Operation Teapot
"MET" test which used a plutonium/U-233 composite pit; this was based
on the plutonium/U-235 pit from the TX-7E, a prototype Mark 7 nuclear
bomb design used in the 1951 Operation Buster-Jangle "Easy" test.
Although not an outright fizzle, MET's actual yield of 22 kilotons was
significantly enough below the predicted 33 that the information
gathered was of limited value.
In 1998, as part of its Pokhran-II
tests, India detonated an experimental U-233 device of low-yield (0.2 kt)
called Shakti V.
The B Reactor and others at the Hanford Site optimized for the production of weapons-grade material have been
used to manufacture U-233.
U-232 impurity
Production of
U (through the irradiation of thorium-232) invariably produces small amounts of uranium-232
as an impurity, because of parasitic (n,2n) reactions on uranium-233 itself, or on protactinium-233:
Th (n,γ)
Th (β−)
Pa (β−)
U (n,2n)
Th (n,γ)
Th (β−)
Pa (n,2n)
Pa (β−)
The decay chain of
U quickly yields strong gamma radiation emitters:
U (α, 72 years)
Th (α, 1.9 year)
Ra (α, 3.6 day, 0.24 MeV)
Rn (α, 55 s, 0.54 MeV)
Po (α, 0.15 s)
Pb (β−, 10.64 h)
Bi (α, 61 s, 0.78 MeV)
Tl (β−, 3 m, 2.6 MeV)
Pb (stable)
This makes manual handling in a glove box with only light shielding (as commonly done with plutonium) too
hazardous, (except possibly in a short period immediately following chemical separation of the uranium from its
decay products) and instead requiring complex remote manipulation for fuel fabrication.
The hazards are significant even at 5 parts per million. Implosion nuclear weapons require U-232 levels below
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50 PPM (above which the U-233 is considered "low grade"; cf. "Standard weapon grade plutonium requires a
Pu-240 content of no more than 6.5%." which is 65000 PPM, and the analogous Pu-238 was produced in levels
of 0.5% (5000 PPM) or less). Gun-type fission weapons additionally need low levels (1 ppm range) of light
impurities, to keep the neutron generation low.
The Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) used U-233, bred in light water reactors such as Indian Point
Energy Center, that was about 220 PPM U-232.
Thorium, from which U-233 is bred, is roughly three to four times more abundant in the earths crust than
uranium. The decay chain of
U itself is in the neptunium series.
Uses for uranium-233 include the production of medical isotopes actinium-225 and bismuth-213, low-mass
nuclear reactors for space travel applications, use as an isotopic tracer, nuclear weapons research, and reactor
fuel research including the thorium fuel cycle.
The radioisotope bismuth-213 is a decay product of uranium-233; it has promise for the treatment of certain
types of cancer, including acute myeloid leukemia and cancers of the pancreas, kidneys and other organs.
Breeder reactor
Liquid fluoride thorium reactor


C. W. Forsburg and L. C. Lewis (1999-09-24). "Uses For Uranium-233: What Should Be Kept for Future
Needs?" (http://moltensalt.org/references/static/downloads/pdf/ORNL-6952.pdf). ORNL-6952 (Oak Ridge National
^ UP (29 September 1946). "Atomic Energy 'Secret' Put into Language That Public Can Understand"
(http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=4jgbAAAAIBAJ&pg=1842%2C3115323). Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 18
October 2011.
^ UP (21 October 1946). "Third Nuclear Source Bared" (http://news.google.com
/newspapers?id=ckxBAAAAIBAJ&pg=6357%2C2252004). The Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
^ Orth, D.A. (1978-06-01). Savannah River Plant Thorium Processing Experience (http://www.osti.gov/bridge
/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=6570656) 43. Nuclear Technology. p. 63.
^ http://www.kayelaby.npl.co.uk/atomic_and_nuclear_physics/4_7/4_7_1.html 5.

Langford, R. Everett (2004). Introduction to Weapons of Mass Destruction: Radiological, Chemical, and
Biological (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0471465607/). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p. 85.
ISBN 0471465607. Retrieved 10 October 2012. "The US tested a few uranium-233 bombs, but the presence of
uranium-232 in the uranium-233 was a problem; the uranium-232 is a copious alpha emitter and tended to
'poison' the uranium-233 bomb by knocking stray neutrons from impurities in the bomb material, leading to
possible pre-detonation. Separation of the uranium-232 from the uranium-233 proved to be very difficult and not
practical. The uranium-233 bomb was never deployed since plutonium-239 was becoming plentiful."
^ Agrawal, Jai Prakash (2010). High Energy Materials: Propellants, Explosives and Pyrotechnics
(http://books.google.com/books?id=rqZROysoS7QC&pg=PA56&dq=U233). Wiley-VCH. pp. 56–57.
ISBN 978-3-527-32610-5. Retrieved 19 March 2012. states briefly that U233 is "thought to be a component of
India's weapon program because of the availability of Thorium in abundance in India", and could be elsewhere as
Uranium-233 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-233
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^ "Operation Teapot" (http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Teapot.html). Nuclear Weapon Archive. 15
October 1997. Retrieved 2008-12-09.
^ "Operation Buster-Jangle" (http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Busterj.html). Nuclear Weapon Archive. 15
October 1997. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
^ Rajat Pandit (28 Aug 2009). "Forces gung-ho on N-arsenal" (http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository
/ml.asp?Ref=VE9JTS8yMDA5LzA4LzI4I0FyMDE1MDA). The Times Of India. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
^ "India's Nuclear Weapons Program - Operation Shakti: 1998" (http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/India
/IndiaShakti.html). nuclearweaponarchive.org. 30 March 2001. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
^ Historical use of thorium at Hanford (http://www.hanfordchallenge.org/cmsAdmin/uploads
^ Chronology of Important FOIA Documents: Hanford’s Semi-Secret Thorium to U-233 Production Campaign
^ Questions and Answers on Uranium-233 at Hanford (http://www.radioactivist.org
^ Hanford Radioactivity in Salmon Spawning Grounds (http://www.clarku.edu/mtafund/prodlib/gap/round1
^ Nuclear Materials (http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq6.html) FAQ 16.
^ [1] (http://twugbcn.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/lftr-and-anti-proliferation.pdf) (see PDF page 10) 17.
uranium-233 is an
isotope of
Decay product of:
plutonium-237 (α)
neptunium-233 (β+)
protactinium-233 (β−)
Decay chain
of uranium-233
Decays to:
thorium-229 (α)
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Uranium-233&oldid=563453063"
Categories: Actinides Isotopes of uranium Fissile materials Special nuclear materials
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