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Thorium

What Is Thorium?

Thorium is a radioactive chemical element found in nature as thorium-232. It is found primarily in the rare earth mineral monazite but can also be found in euxenite and thorianite. Thorium is found more abundantly in the Earth’s crust than uranium and only occurs naturally in an oxidized form.

Pure thorium is soft, very ductile and has a lustrous silvery-white appearance. It will slowly turn from gray to black when it becomes contaminated with the air’s oxide. Thorium can be swaged, drawn and cold-rolled in its pure form.

What Is Thorium Used For?

Thorium was used as an alloying agent with several metals and as a light emitting material in gas mantles, but concerns about its radioactivity have caused these applications to decrease in production.

Thorium is used to coat tungsten filaments which are used in electronic devices. Thorium can also be used in welding electrodes, heat-resistant ceramics, arc-light lamps and glass containing thorium oxide has a high index of refraction which is used in high quality camera lenses and scientific equipment.

According to the Wikipedia entry on thorium:

“Thorium dioxide has been used as a catalyst in the conversion of ammonia (NH3) to nitric acid (HNO3), in petroleum cracking and in producing sulphuric acid (H2SO4).”

According to the World Nuclear Association, future uses include using thorium in nuclear energy: (link to our article on nuclear energy)

“Thorium continues to be a tantalising possibility for use in nuclear power reactors” and “Over the last 40 years there has been interest in utilising thorium as a nuclear fuel since it is more abundant in the Earth's crust than uranium.”

Where Is Thorium Produced?

Thorium is found more abundantly than uranium in the Earth’s crust with the largest reserves found in India, Australia and United States. Australia is however not mining for thorium. The Resource Investor has written an article on the speculative production of thorium believing that the United States is currently the largest producer.

Conclusion

Thorium has a half-life of about 14.05 billion years and is commonly found in the Earth’s crust. Its uses include alloying and coating other metals. Usage of thorium oxide is found in glass for camera lenses and scientific equipment as well being a catalyst for various productions. Thorium is being strongly considered for use in nuclear power plants. The United States is the largest producer of thorium.


If you would like to learn more about minerals and mining visit our Mining and Metals page.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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