Thorium: Th(e) Best Element
Discovery of Thorium
Uses of Thorium
At the moment, nuclear engineers have their eye on thorium as a substitution for uranium in the process of creating nuclear energy. In the 1960s, there was a experiment done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where a molten salt thorium reactor was designed and tested. The experiment displayed that the creation of a larger scale molten salt reactor was feasible; it also displayed some concerning yet solvable safety issues. Thorium-232 is highly fissionable (has the ability to decay into two parts) therefore through the process of shooting neutrons with an energy level of 1 MeV at a particle of thorium-232, it can split, creating heat energy to power a turbine. Naturally, the process is more complicated than this. This process does not use fuel of any sort, but molten salt instead which reduces the risk of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster or the Chernobyl disaster. It also drastically reduces the radioactive waste which is biologically harmful.
Another use for thorium is in thorium dating. Thorium dating is the geological process of finding the ages of strata or rock layers. Thorium is very common in dirt, and how much it has decayed can be used to find the age of the atom, therefore the age of the strata. This is useful for archaeology to date the grown in which an artifact was found. It is also used to biology when dealing with extinct life forms, or transitional life forms to assist in proving evolution.
Thorium in Nature
Thorium is extremely costly to harvest and process. Processing thorium requires many steps, not just digging it out of the ground. The element is often found in monazite sand beaches, especially in India. Thorium makes up roughly 3-5% of monazite. When mined, silica, magnetite, ilmenite, zircon, garnet, and other minerals are gathered alongside it. Monazite is separated from these through each mineral's different magnetic permiabilities, and their densities.
From there, the monizite is digested by an acidic solution at about 155-200 degrees Celsius, converting the phosphorus and thorium into be water soluble compound of thorium phosphate. This is a gelatin-like compound then becomes thorium hydroxide. Nitric acid is then added to remove the hydroxide and purify the thorium. This creates a thorium nitrate concentration. The thorium nitrate is then soaked in a diluted form of tributyl phosphate. A little while later, a diluted nitric acid concentrate is once again added to purify the thorium.
To put it into a form which is used by nuclear reactors, the thorium can be calcined to ThO2.
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