Traits of the Tritium Molecule

Hazard

Like most common forms of hydrogen, Tritium has a single electron circling its atom. This is the reason tritium reacts chemically to form compounds just like hydrogen. The two most common forms you are likely to encounter are HT (an invisible gas similar to hydrogen) or HTO (tritiated or heavy water). Only tritium ingested in liquid form (HTO) poses any real health hazard. In its gaseous state (HT) only 0.005% of the tritium dose will be absorbed by the lungs.

Illegal Tritium Dumping

A comprehensive two year study performed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) tested the presence of radioactive material leachate in 54 landfills in Pennsylvania. The survey was performed as a sequel to DEP's new requirements for radiation mitigation at all solid waste management facilities in the state. The study found above-nominal levels of H3 tritium in leachate at 51 of the 54 facilities.


Properties

Tritium Factoids:

Tritium is a Hydrogen isotope. Like most hydrogen, it is composed of one proton, and an orbital electron. However, tritium has two extra neutrons in the nucleus.

Radioactive Deterioration:

The nuclear decay of tritium produces a low energy beta particle byproduct, similar to an electron. This decay loses energy in the nucleus and at the atomic level, leaving a helium atom (3He), that is much more stable.

Difinitive Activity:

9,649 curies (3.57×1015 Bq) per gram.

Half-Life:

12.33 years

Tritium Sources

Environmental:

Cosmic rays interact with nitrogen or with deuterium and form tritium and carbon. These are primarily interactions that happen in the upper atmosphere and the tritium falls to earth as rain.

Production:

Tritium is produced in nuclear reactors by neutron activation of lithium-6. Tritium is also produced in heavy water-moderated reactors whenever a deuterium nucleus captures a neutron.