Tritium is Radioactive and the H in H bomb yet it is also in your drinking water, can be bought without restriction and is even inside you right now. We demystify the magic and see why this radioactive substance is actually not bad for us.
If you have never heard of it before, it looks similar to the green stuff Homer plays with in the Simpsons intro and can glow for up to 25 years.
What is Tritium?
First discovered by Mark Oliphant, ERNEST Rutherford and Paul Harteck in 1934. It is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen mainly used in research activities, neutron generators and fusion reactors.
Tritium is an isotope of Hydrogen with 3 Neutrons, Deuterium has 2 neutrons and Hydrogen only one.
When blended with a phosphor, a continuous glow is achieved.
It is everywhere
As a form of hydrogen it is naturally found in air, water and you likely have some of it in your body right now.
How is Tritium made?
- Naturally – When cosmic rays interact with nitrogen or deuterium in the upper atmosphere, it forms Tritium and carbon. The Tritium will then fall on earth in the form of rain giving us the natural form of the radioactive chemical.
- Artificially – Tritium is achieved by bombarding hydrogen with neutrons in an accelerator or a nuclear reactor.
It is widely used in self powered glowing items that “glow forever”.
Commercial self-powered lighting
Small portions are used in self-powered lighting devices known as betalights. Betalights are used in many devices such as firearm night sights, map lights, exit signs, watches, knives, and medical diagnostics. Offering up to 25 years of glowing power they never need recharging or electricity, they just glow.
Military – Nuclear Weapons
The primary function of Tritium is to boost the yield of both fission and thermonuclear weapons. It is also used to enhance efficiency of fission bombs as well as fission stages in a process known as “boosting”.
It’s the H in H bomb
When moving from fission to fusion, the two key ingredients for an H bomb are Tritium and Deuterium, when they react together nuclear fusion occurs. This is the basis of the powerful H bomb.
Health and Safety
Despite it being radioactive and a key ingredient of destruction, the risks involved in regular levels of exposure are small, due to the following reasons:
- It is a low energy beta emitter, so does not release high amounts of energy.
- Chemically it behaves like water in the human body – forms T2O or HTO.
- Has a short half-life – 12 years and passes through your body similar to water.
This is not an invitation to go crazy and swim in the stuff, like most things, large doses can cause significant harm.
Discover the magic of Tritium yourself.
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