The Use of Hydrogen Isotopes


Hydrogen has three isotopes, called hydrogen or protium, heavy hydrogen or deuterium, and tritium. The first two--protium and deuterium--occur in nature in detectable amounts, but the third isotope, tritium, is an unstable species produced in nuclear reactions. Owing to the tremendous mass differences among the three isotopes, they differ remarkably in their physical properties and uses. The uses of these isotopes are discussed below.

Use of Ordinary Hydrogen

  • Ordinary hydrogen or protium is represented as H. One of the applications of hydrogen is the hydrogenation of materials, such as nitrogen (to produce ammonia), carbon monoxide (to give methanol and a variety of other useful products), coal (to yield synthetic petrol), and unsaturated or liquid fats into solid fats (for use as food or making soaps).

    Hydrogen is an effective reducing agent for the preparation of certain metals like tungsten in a pure state. It is used in the production of high temperature by means of oxyhydrogen flame for welding purposes. Hydrogen is a good lifting agent in filling balloons and dirigibles.

Use of Heavy Hydrogen

  • Deuterium or heavy hydrogen has been found as a source of deuterons, which are capable of initiating several nuclear transformations through the formation of compound nucleus at relatively low energies.

    It is used in the preparation of the hydrogen bomb.

    Heavy hydrogen has been used in the preparation of deuterium compounds that have many uses. Deuterium is used as a moderator in nuclear reactors to slow down the speed of fast-moving neutrons.

    Deuterium and its compounds are used as a \"tracer\" in the study of mechanism of various chemical and metabolic reactions taking place in the body. For example, with the help of deuterium it has been shown that butyric acid (a component of butter) is never stored in the body and is an immediate source of energy that at once gets consumed, while stearic acid (a component of lard) is not used up at once and hence is useful in building up reverse stock in the body.

Use of Tritium

  • Tritium has the possibility of use as an artificial radioactive tracer in chemistry, medicine and biology. It is used in nuclear fusion reactions. Tritium is a source of tritons, which are used in several nuclear transformations. Tritium is also of potential use in thermo-nuclear process. Tritium hydride, TH, is a very important compound of tritium. TH is used in the preparation of a number of organic compounds containing this radioactive isotope.

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