thorium


thorium
thoric /thawr"ik, thor"-/, adj.
/thawr"ee euhm, thohr"-/, n. Chem.
a grayish-white, lustrous, somewhat ductile and malleable, radioactive metallic element present in monazite: used as a source of nuclear energy, as a coating on sun-lamp and vacuum-tube filament coatings, and in alloys. Symbol: Th; at. wt.: 232.038; at. no.: 90; sp. gr.: 11.7. Cf. thoria.
[ < NL (1829); see THOR, -IUM]

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 (Th), radioactive chemical element of the actinoid series of the periodic table, atomic number 90; it is a useful nuclear-reactor fuel. Discovered (1828) by Jöns Jacob Berzelius (Berzelius, Jöns Jacob), thorium is silvery white but turns gray or black on exposure to air. It is about half as abundant as lead and is three times more abundant than uranium in the Earth's crust. Thorium is commercially recovered from the mineral monazite and occurs also in thorite and thorianite. Thorium has been produced in commercial quantities by reduction of the fluoride (ThF4) and dioxide (ThO2) and by electrolysis of the chloride (ThCl4).

      The metal may be extruded, rolled, forged, swaged, and spun, but drawing is difficult because of thorium's low tensile strength. This and other physical properties such as melting and boiling points are greatly affected by small amounts of certain impurities, such as carbon and thorium dioxide. Thorium is added to magnesium and magnesium alloys to improve their high-temperature strength. It is used in commercial photoelectric cells for measuring ultraviolet light of wavelengths ranging from 2,000 to 3,750 angstroms. Added to glass, thorium yields glasses with a high refractive index, useful for specialized optical applications. It was formerly in great demand as a component of mantles for gas and kerosene lamps and has been used in the manufacture of tungsten filaments for lightbulbs and vacuum tubes.

      The radioactivity of thorium was found independently (1898) by Gerhard Carl Schmidt and by Marie Curie. Natural thorium is a mixture of radioactive isotopes, predominantly the very long-lived thorium-232 (1.41 × 1010 year half-life), the parent of the thorium radioactive-decay series. Other isotopes occur naturally in the uranium and actinium decay series, and thorium is present in all uranium ores. Thorium-232 is useful in breeder reactors because on capturing slow-moving neutrons it decays into fissionable uranium-233. Synthetic isotopes have been prepared; thorium-229 (7,340-year half-life), formed in the decay chain originating in the synthetic actinide element neptunium, serves as a tracer for ordinary thorium (thorium-232).

      Thorium exhibits an oxidation state of +4 in most of its compounds and forms many complex ions. The dioxide (ThO2), a very refractory substance, has many industrial applications; thorium nitrate is a common commercial salt.

atomic number
90
atomic weight
232.038
melting point
c. 1,700° C (3,100° F)
boiling point
c. 4,000° C (7,200° F)
specific gravity
c. 11.66 (17° C)
oxidation state
+4
electronic config.
[Rn]6d27s2

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Universalium. 2010.