Uranium-233

An ampoule containing solidified pieces of a
FLiBe and uranium-233 tetrafluoride mixture
Full table
General
Name, symbol
Uranium-233,
233
U
Neutrons 141
Protons 92
Nuclide data
Half-life 159,200 years
Parent isotopes
237
Pu (α)
233
Np (β
+
)
233
Pa (β

)
Decay products
229
Th
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.
[1]
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
occur.
233
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
neptunium-236.
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.
[2][3]
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
1 of 5 1.3.2014 21:11
Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment
Shippingport Atomic Power Station
German THTR-300
varying levels of chemical and isotopic purity.
[1]
These were produced at
the Hanford Site and Savannah River Site in reactors that were designed
for the production of plutonium-239.
[4]
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
−11
J, i.e. 19.09 TJ/mol = 81.95 TJ/kg.
[5]
Source
Average energy
released
(MeV)
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
9.1
Energy converted into heat in an operating thermal
nuclear reactor
200.1
Uranium-233 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-233
2 of 5 1.3.2014 21:11
The first detonation of a nuclear bomb
that included U-233, on 15 April
1955.
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
[6]
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
[7]
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.
[8][9]
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.
[10][11]
The B Reactor and others at the Hanford Site optimized for the production of weapons-grade material have been
used to manufacture U-233.
[12][13][14][15]
U-232 impurity
Production of
233
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:
232
Th (n,γ)
233
Th (β−)
233
Pa (β−)
233
U (n,2n)
232
U
232
Th (n,γ)
233
Th (β−)
233
Pa (n,2n)
232
Pa (β−)
232
U
The decay chain of
232
U quickly yields strong gamma radiation emitters:
232
U (α, 72 years)
228
Th (α, 1.9 year)
224
Ra (α, 3.6 day, 0.24 MeV)
220
Rn (α, 55 s, 0.54 MeV)
216
Po (α, 0.15 s)
212
Pb (β−, 10.64 h)
212
Bi (α, 61 s, 0.78 MeV)
208
Tl (β−, 3 m, 2.6 MeV)
208
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
Uranium-233 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-233
3 of 5 1.3.2014 21:11
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.
[16][6]
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.
[17]
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
233
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.
[1]
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
^
a

b

c
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
Laboratory).
1.
^ 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.
2.
^ 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.
3.
^ 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.
4.
^ http://www.kayelaby.npl.co.uk/atomic_and_nuclear_physics/4_7/4_7_1.html 5.
^
a

b
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."
6.
^ 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
well.
7.
Uranium-233 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-233
4 of 5 1.3.2014 21:11
^ "Operation Teapot" (http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Teapot.html). Nuclear Weapon Archive. 15
October 1997. Retrieved 2008-12-09.
8.
^ "Operation Buster-Jangle" (http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Busterj.html). Nuclear Weapon Archive. 15
October 1997. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
9.
^ 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.
10.
^ "India's Nuclear Weapons Program - Operation Shakti: 1998" (http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/India
/IndiaShakti.html). nuclearweaponarchive.org. 30 March 2001. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
11.
^ Historical use of thorium at Hanford (http://www.hanfordchallenge.org/cmsAdmin/uploads
/Historical_use_of_thorium_at_Hanford.pdf)
12.
^ Chronology of Important FOIA Documents: Hanford’s Semi-Secret Thorium to U-233 Production Campaign
(http://www.hanfordchallenge.org/cmsAdmin/uploads/Chronology_of_thorium_to_U-233_FOIA_Docs.pdf)
13.
^ Questions and Answers on Uranium-233 at Hanford (http://www.radioactivist.org
/Q%20&%20A%20from%20GAP.pdf)
14.
^ Hanford Radioactivity in Salmon Spawning Grounds (http://www.clarku.edu/mtafund/prodlib/gap/round1
/2001-12-19.pdf)
15.
^ 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.
Lighter:
uranium-232
uranium-233 is an
isotope of
uranium
Heavier:
uranium-234
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
This page was last modified on 9 July 2013 at 00:48.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may
apply. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.
Uranium-233 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-233
5 of 5 1.3.2014 21:11