Thorium

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Thorium is a chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90.

Properties

Chemical

Thorium is a highly reactive metal. At room temperature, thorium is slowly attacked by water, but does not readily dissolve in most common acids, the exception being hydrochloric acid. It will dissolve in concentrated nitric acid containing a small amount of catalytic fluoride or fluorosilicate ions. At high temperatures, it is easily attacked by oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, the halogens, and sulfur. Finely divided thorium is highly pyrophoric. Thorium burns with a bright white flame in air.

Physical

Thorium is a soft, paramagnetic, bright silvery radioactive actinide metal. Pure thorium is soft, very ductile. Because thorium melts at 1750 °C and boils at 4788 °C, it has one of the widest liquid range of all metals.

Availability

Thorium was available in the past as thorium dioxide in gas mantles. Certain heat resistant ceramics contain thoria. Small amounts of thorium are added in TIG welding rods. Old gas mantles can contain amounts of thorium dioxide.

The acquisition of pure metal is problematic, as there are almost no companies that will sell very small samples to individuals. Element collector Max Whitby explained in a YT video that there are extremely few companies that will sell small samples of thorium, even chemical lab suppliers. He also discovered that shipping it outside requires a heavy-duty license for radioactive materials, as he discovered when he was visited by authorities.

Isolation

Metallic thorium can be extracted by reducing thorium dioxide with calcium in an inert atmosphere:

ThO2 + 2 Ca → 2 CaO + Th

Projects

  • Thorium halides
  • Make thorium dioxide
  • Firestarters

Handling

Safety

Thorium is highly reactive and pyrophoric. It is only mildly radioactive (232Th has a half-life of 14.05 billion years and is alpha radioactive), the radiation is too weak to penetrate the skin. Soluble thorium compounds are toxic and should be handled with proper protection.

Bulk thorium is difficult to ignite, but finely divided metal is highly pyrophoric.

Storage

As thorium will slowly react with the air, it should be stored under oil or under an inert atmosphere, in a container. Sealing it is not necessary. Being weak radioactive, thorium does not require radiation shielding (the storage container walls will effectively absorb the weak alpha radiation).

Disposal

Thorium and its compounds compounds, are toxic, and it is recommended to avoid dumping the compounds in the environment and instead should be taken to waste disposal facilities.

If the thorium was extracted from its natural ore that was taken from an area where the said ore can be easily collected, it's not entirely a bad idea to dispose of the ore wastes as well as thorium compounds residues in the said area, as the ore area is already naturally contaminated and the amount of ore waste is the same as the one you originally picked it up.

References

Relevant Sciencemadness threads