Jump to: navigation, search
Name, symbol Uranium-233,233U
Nuclide data
Half-life 160,000 years
Parent isotopes 237PuTemplate:Infobox isotope/Decay
233NpTemplate:Infobox isotope/Decay
233PaTemplate:Infobox isotope/Decay
Decay products 229Th

Uranium-233 is a fissile artificial isotope of Uranium, which has been used in a few 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.

233U usually fissions on neutron absorption but sometimes retains the neutron, becoming uranium-234, although the proportion of nonfissions is smaller than for the other common fission fuels, uranium-235, plutonium-239, and plutonium-241, and is still relatively small at all neutron energies.

Breeding uranium-233 from thorium feedstock is the long-term strategy of the nuclear power program of India, which has substantial thorium reserves. Breeding can be done in either fast reactors or thermal reactors, unlike uranium-based fuel cycles which require the superior neutron economy of a fast reactor in order to breed, that is to produce more fissile material than is consumed. Outside of India, interest in the thorium-based fuel cycle is not great, although the world's reserves of thorium are three times those of uranium.

It is also possible to use uranium-233 as the fission fuel of a nuclear weapon, although this has been done only occasionally. The United States first tested U-233 as part of a bomb core in Operation Teapot in 1955.[1]

Production of 233U invariably produces small amounts of uranium-232 as an impurity, and the decay chain of 232U quickly yields strong gamma radiation emitters, making 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 thorium-228, radium-224, radon-220, and polonium) and instead requiring remote manipulation for fuel fabrication.

The decay chain of 233U itself is in the neptunium series. The radioisotope bismuth-213 is a decay product of uranium-233. Bismuth-213 has promise for the treatment of certain types of cancer, including acute myeloid leukemia and cancers of the pancreas, kidneys and other organs.

Uranium-232 Isotopes of Uranium Uranium-234
Produced from:
Plutonium-237 (α)
Neptunium-233 (β+)
Protactinium-233 (β-)
Decay chain Decays to:
Thorium-229 (α)