Get Uranium-233 essential facts below. View Videos or join the Uranium-233 discussion. Add Uranium-233 to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
Uranium-233, 233U
An ampoule containing solidified pieces of a
FLiBe and uranium-233 tetrafluoride mixture
Namesuranium-233, U-233
Nuclide data
Half-life160,000 years[1]
Parent isotopes237Pu (α)
233Np (β+)
233Pa (β-)
Decay products229Th
Isotope mass233.039 u
Isotopes of uranium
Complete table of nuclides

Uranium-233 (233U) 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.[2] 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 160,000 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, to maintain the neutron economy (if it misses the 233U window, the next fissile target is 235U, meaning a total of 4 neutrons needed to trigger fission).

233U usually fissions on neutron absorption, but sometimes retains the neutron, becoming uranium-234. The capture-to-fission ratio of uranium-233 is smaller than those of the other two major fissile fuels, uranium-235 and plutonium-239.

Fissile material

German THTR-300

In 1946, the public first became informed of uranium-233 bred from thorium as "a third available source of nuclear energy and atom bombs" (in addition to uranium-235 and plutonium-239), following a United Nations report and a speech by Glenn T. Seaborg.[3][4]

The United States produced, over the course of the Cold War, approximately 2 metric tons of uranium-233, in varying levels of chemical and isotopic purity.[2] These were produced at the Hanford Site and Savannah River Site in reactors that were designed for the production of plutonium-239.[5]

Nuclear fuel

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 uranium-233 generates 197.9 MeV = 3.171·10-11 J  (i.e. 19.09 TJ/mol = 81.95 TJ/kg).[6]

Source Average energy
released (MeV)
Instantaneously released energy
Kinetic energy of fission fragments 168.2
Kinetic energy of prompt neutrons 004.8
Energy carried by prompt ?-rays 007.7
Energy from decaying fission products
Energy of ?--particles 005.2
Energy of anti-neutrinos 006.9
Energy of delayed ?-rays 005.0
Sum (excluding escaping anti-neutrinos) 191.0
Energy released when those prompt neutrons which don't (re)produce fission are captured 009.1
Energy converted into heat in an operating thermal nuclear reactor 200.1

Weapon material

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 (both 4-5 kg in beryllium-reflected sphere)[7].

In 1994, the US government declassified a 1966 memo that states that uranium-233 has been shown to be highly satisfactory as a weapons material, though it is only superior to plutonium in rare circumstances. It was claimed that if the existing weapons were based on uranium-233 instead of plutonium-239, Livermore would not be interested in switching to plutonium.[8]

The co-presence of uranium-232[9] can complicate the manufacture and use of uranium-233, though the Livermore memo indicates a likelihood that this complication can be worked around[8].

While it is thus possible to use uranium-233 as the fissile material of a nuclear weapon, speculation[10] aside, there is scant publicly available information on this isotope actually having been weaponized:

The B Reactor and others at the Hanford Site optimized for the production of weapons-grade material have been used to manufacture 233U.[16][17][18][19]

232U impurity

Production of 233U (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, or on thorium-232:

232Th (n,?) -> 233Th (?-) -> 233Pa (?-) -> 233U (n,2n) -> 232U
232Th (n,?) -> 233Th (?-) -> 233Pa (n,2n) -> 232Pa (?-)-> 232U
232Th (n,2n) -> 231Th (?-) -> 231Pa (n,?) -> 232Pa (?-) -> 232U

Another channel involves neutron capture reaction on small amounts of thorium-230, which is a tiny fraction of natural thorium present due to the decay of uranium-238:

230Th (n,?) -> 231Th (?-) -> 231Pa (n,?) -> 232Pa (?-) -> 232U

The decay chain of 232U quickly yields strong gamma radiation emitters. Thallium-208 is the strongest of these, at 2.6 MeV:

232U (?, 68.9 y)
228Th (?, 1.9 y)
224Ra (?, 5.44 MeV, 3.6 d, with a ? of 0.24 MeV)
220Rn (?, 6.29 MeV, 56 s, with a ? of 0.54 MeV)
216Po (?, 0.15 s)
212Pb (?-, 10.64 h)
212Bi (?, 61 min, 0.78 MeV)
208Tl (?-, 1.8 MeV, 3 min, with a ? of 2.6 MeV)
208Pb (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 232U levels below 50 ppm (above which the 233U is considered "low grade"; cf. "Standard weapon grade plutonium requires a 240Pu content of no more than 6.5%." which is 65000 ppm, and the analogous 238Pu 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.[9][20]

The Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) used 233U, bred in light water reactors such as Indian Point Energy Center, that was about 220 ppm 232U.[21]

Further information

Thorium, from which 233U is bred, is roughly three to four times more abundant in the earth's crust than uranium.[22][23] The decay chain of 233U itself is part of the neptunium series, the decay chain of its grandparent 237Np.

Uses for uranium-233 include the production of the medical isotopes actinium-225 and bismuth-213 which are among its daughters, 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.[2]

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.

See also


  1. ^ http://www.doh.wa.gov/portals/1/Documents/Pubs/320-086_u233han_fs.pdf
  2. ^ a b c C. W. Forsburg and L. C. Lewis (24 September 1999). "Uses For Uranium-233: What Should Be Kept for Future Needs?" (PDF). ORNL-6952. Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  3. ^ UP (29 September 1946). "Atomic Energy 'Secret' Put into Language That Public Can Understand". Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 2011.
  4. ^ UP (21 October 1946). "Third Nuclear Source Bared". The Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved 2011.
  5. ^ Orth, D.A. (1 June 1978). "Savannah River Plant Thorium Processing Experience". 43. Nuclear Technology: 63. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ "Nuclear fission 4.7.1". www.kayelaby.npl.co.uk. Retrieved 2018.
  7. ^ Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division., United States. Congress. Senate. (1985). "Nuclear proliferation factbook". Committee on Governmental Affairs. Subcommittee on Energy, N. Proliferation., United States. Congress. House. Committee on Foreign Affairs. Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade., United States. Congress. House. Committee on Foreign Affairs. Subcommittee on Arms Control, I. Security.: 295. Retrieved 2019.
  8. ^ a b Woods, W.K. (10 February 1966). "LRL interest in U-233". United States. DUN-677. doi:10.2172/79078. Retrieved 2019.
  9. ^ a b Langford, R. Everett (2004). Introduction to Weapons of Mass Destruction: Radiological, Chemical, and Biological. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p. 85. ISBN 0471465607."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."
  10. ^ Agrawal, Jai Prakash (2010). High Energy Materials: Propellants, Explosives and Pyrotechnics. Wiley-VCH. pp. 56-57. ISBN 978-3-527-32610-5. Retrieved 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.
  11. ^ "Operation Teapot". Nuclear Weapon Archive. 15 October 1997. Retrieved 2008.
  12. ^ "Operation Buster-Jangle". Nuclear Weapon Archive. 15 October 1997. Retrieved 2012.
  13. ^ Stephen F. Ashley. "Thorium and its role in the nuclear fuel cycle". Retrieved 2014. PDF page 8, citing: D. Holloway, "Soviet Thermonuclear Development", International Security 4:3 (1979-80) 192-197.
  14. ^ Rajat Pandit (28 August 2009). "Forces gung-ho on N-arsenal". The Times Of India. Retrieved 2012.
  15. ^ "India's Nuclear Weapons Program - Operation Shakti: 1998". nuclearweaponarchive.org. 30 March 2001. Retrieved 2012.
  16. ^ "Historical use of thorium at Hanford" (PDF). hanfordchallenge.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 2018.
  17. ^ "Chronology of Important FOIA Documents: Hanford's Semi-Secret Thorium to U-233 Production Campaign" (PDF). hanfordchallenge.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 2018.
  18. ^ "Questions and Answers on Uranium-233 at Hanford" (PDF). radioactivist.org. Retrieved 2018.
  19. ^ "Hanford Radioactivity in Salmon Spawning Grounds" (PDF). clarku.edu. Retrieved 2018.
  20. ^ Nuclear Materials FAQ
  21. ^ [1] (see PDF p. 10)
  22. ^ "Abundance in Earth's Crust: periodicity". WebElements.com. Archived from the original on 23 May 2008. Retrieved 2014.
  23. ^ "It's Elemental -- The Periodic Table of Elements". Jefferson Lab. Archived from the original on 29 April 2007. Retrieved 2007.

Uranium-233 is an
isotope of uranium
Decay product of:
plutonium-237 (?)
neptunium-233 (?+)
protactinium-233 (?-)
Decay chain
of uranium-233
Decays to:
thorium-229 (?)

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



Music Scenes