Actinide chemistry

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Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element, an actinide metal. Pu,94-cropped.jpg
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element, an actinide metal.

Actinide chemistry (or actinoid chemistry) is one of the main branches of nuclear chemistry that investigates the processes and molecular systems of the actinides. The actinides derive their name from the group 3 element actinium. The informal chemical symbol An is used in general discussions of actinide chemistry to refer to any actinide. All but one of the actinides are f-block elements, corresponding to the filling of the 5f electron shell; lawrencium, a d-block element, is also generally considered an actinide. In comparison with the lanthanides, also mostly f-block elements, the actinides show much more variable valence. The actinide series encompasses the 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers from 89 to 103, actinium through lawrencium. [1] [2] [3] [4]


Main branches

Organoactinide chemistry

In contrast to the relatively early flowering of organotransition-metal chemistry (1955 to the present), the corresponding development of actinide organometallic chemistry has taken place largely within the past 15 or so years. During this period, 5f organometallic science has blossomed, and it is now apparent that the actinides have a rich, intricate, and highly informative organometallic chemistry. Intriguing parallels to and sharp differences from the d-block elements have emerged. Actinides can coordinate the organic active groups or bind to carbon by the covalent bonds. [5]

Thermodynamics of actinides

The necessity of obtaining accurate thermodynamic quantities for the actinide elements and their compounds was recognized at the outset of the Manhattan Project, when a dedicated team of scientists and engineers initiated the program to exploit nuclear energy for military purposes. Since the end of World War II, both fundamental and applied objectives have motivated a great deal of further study of actinide thermodynamics. [6]

Nanotechnology and supramolecular chemistry of actinides

The possibility of using unique properties of lanthanides in the nanotechnology is demonstrated. The origination of linear and nonlinear optical properties of lanthanide compounds with phthalocyanines, porphyrins, naphthalocyanines, and their analogs in solutions and condensed state and the prospects of obtaining novel materials on their basis are discussed. Based on the electronic structure and properties of lanthanides and their compounds, namely, optical and magnetic characteristics, electronic and ionic conductivity, and fluctuating valence, molecular engines are classified. High-speed storage engines or memory storage engines; photoconversion molecular engines based on Ln(II) and Ln(III); electrochemical molecular engines involving silicate and phosphate glasses; molecular engines whose operation is based on insulator – semiconductor, semiconductor – metal, and metal – superconductor types of conductivity phase transitions; solid electrolyte molecular engines; and miniaturized molecular engines for medical analysis are distinguished. It is shown that thermodynamically stable nanoparticles of LnxMy composition can be formed by d elements of the second halves of the series, i.e., those arranged after M = Mn, Tc, and Re. [7]

Biological and environmental chemistry of actinides

Generally, ingested insoluble actinide compounds such as high-fired uranium dioxide and mixed oxide (MOX) fuel will pass through the digestive system with little effect since they cannot dissolve and be absorbed by the body. Inhaled actinide compounds, however, will be more damaging as they remain in the lungs and irradiate the lung tissue. Ingested Low-fired oxides and soluble salts such as nitrate can be absorbed into the blood stream. If they are inhaled then it is possible for the solid to dissolve and leave the lungs. Hence the dose to the lungs will be lower for the soluble form.

Radon and radium are not actinides—they are both radioactive daughters from the decay of uranium. Aspects of their biology and environmental behaviour is discussed at radium in the environment.

Monazite, a rare earth and thorium phosphate mineral, is the primary source of the world's thorium. MonaziteUSGOV.jpg
Monazite, a rare earth and thorium phosphate mineral, is the primary source of the world's thorium.

In India, a large amount of thorium ore can be found in the form of monazite in placer deposits of the Western and Eastern coastal dune sands, particularly in the Tamil Nadu coastal areas. The residents of this area are exposed to a naturally occurring radiation dose ten times higher than the worldwide average. [8]

Thorium has been linked to liver cancer. In the past thoria (thorium dioxide) was used as a contrast agent for medical X-ray radiography but its use has been discontinued. It was sold under the name Thorotrast.

Uranium is about as abundant as arsenic or molybdenum. Significant concentrations of uranium occur in some substances such as phosphate rock deposits, and minerals such as lignite, and monazite sands in uranium-rich ores (it is recovered commercially from these sources). Seawater contains about 3.3 parts per billion of uranium by weight [9] as uranium(VI) forms soluble carbonate complexes. The extraction of uranium from seawater has been considered as a means of obtaining the element. Because of the very low specific activity of uranium the chemical effects of it upon living things can often outweigh the effects of its radioactivity.

Plutonium, like other actinides, readily forms a plutonium dioxide (plutonyl) core (PuO2). In the environment, this plutonyl core readily complexes with carbonate as well as other oxygen moieties (OH, NO
, NO
, and SO2−
) to form charged complexes which can be readily mobile with low affinities to soil.

Nuclear reactions

Some early evidence for nuclear fission was the formation of a short-lived radioisotope of barium which was isolated from neutron irradiated uranium (139Ba, with a half-life of 83 minutes and 140Ba, with a half-life of 12.8 days, are major fission products of uranium). At the time, it was thought that this was a new radium isotope, as it was then standard radiochemical practice to use a barium sulfate carrier precipitate to assist in the isolation of radium.


The PUREX process is a liquid–liquid extraction ion-exchange method used to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, in order to extract primarily uranium and plutonium, independent of each other, from the other constituents. The current method of choice is to use the PUREX liquid–liquid extraction process which uses a tributyl phosphate/hydrocarbon mixture to extract both uranium and plutonium from nitric acid. This extraction is of the nitrate salts and is classed as being of a solvation mechanism. For example, the extraction of plutonium by an extraction agent (S) in a nitrate medium occurs by the following reaction.

(aq) + 4 NO
(aq) + 2 S(organic) → [Pu(NO

A complex bond is formed between the metal cation, the nitrates and the tributyl phosphate, and a model compound of a dioxouranium(VI) complex with two nitrates and two triethyl phosphates has been characterised by X-ray crystallography. [10] After the dissolution step it is normal to remove the fine insoluble solids, because otherwise they will disturb the solvent extraction process by altering the liquid-liquid interface. It is known that the presence of a fine solid can stabilize an emulsion. Emulsions are often referred to as third phases in the solvent extraction community.

An organic solvent composed of 30% tributyl phosphate (TBP) in a hydrocarbon solvent, such as kerosene, is used to extract the uranium as UO2(NO3)2·2TBP complexes, and plutonium as similar complexes, from other fission products, which remain in the aqueous phase. The transuranium elements americium and curium also remain in the aqueous phase. The nature of the organic soluble uranium complex has been the subject of some research. A series of complexes of uranium with nitrate and trialkyl phosphates and phosphine oxides have been characterized. [10]

Plutonium is separated from uranium by treating the kerosene solution with aqueous ferrous sulphamate, which selectively reduces the plutonium to the +3 oxidation state. The plutonium passes into the aqueous phase. The uranium is stripped from the kerosene solution by back-extraction into nitric acid at a concentration of ca. 0.2 mol dm−3. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Actinium</span> Chemical element, symbol Ac and atomic number 89

Actinium is a chemical element with the symbol Ac and atomic number 89. It was first isolated by Friedrich Oskar Giesel in 1902, who gave it the name emanium; the element got its name by being wrongly identified with a substance André-Louis Debierne found in 1899 and called actinium. Actinium gave the name to the actinide series, a set of 15 elements between actinium and lawrencium in the periodic table. Together with polonium, radium, and radon, actinium was one of the first non-primordial radioactive elements to be isolated.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Americium</span> Chemical element, symbol Am and atomic number 95

Americium is a synthetic radioactive chemical element with the symbol Am and atomic number 95. It is a transuranic member of the actinide series, in the periodic table located under the lanthanide element europium, and thus by analogy was named after the Americas.

The actinide or actinoid series encompasses the 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers from 89 to 103, actinium through lawrencium. The actinide series derives its name from the first element in the series, actinium. The informal chemical symbol An is used in general discussions of actinide chemistry to refer to any actinide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Curium</span> Chemical element, symbol Cm and atomic number 96

Curium is a transuranic, radioactive chemical element with the symbol Cm and atomic number 96. This actinide element was named after eminent scientists Marie and Pierre Curie, both known for their research on radioactivity. Curium was first intentionally made by the team of Glenn T. Seaborg, Ralph A. James, and Albert Ghiorso in 1944, using the cyclotron at Berkeley. They bombarded the newly discovered element plutonium with alpha particles. This was then sent to the Metallurgical Laboratory at University of Chicago where a tiny sample of curium was eventually separated and identified. The discovery was kept secret until after the end of World War II. The news was released to the public in November 1947. Most curium is produced by bombarding uranium or plutonium with neutrons in nuclear reactors – one tonne of spent nuclear fuel contains ~20 grams of curium.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Neptunium</span> Chemical element, symbol Np and atomic number 93

Neptunium is a chemical element with the symbol Np and atomic number 93. A radioactive actinide metal, neptunium is the first transuranic element. Its position in the periodic table just after uranium, named after the planet Uranus, led to it being named after Neptune, the next planet beyond Uranus. A neptunium atom has 93 protons and 93 electrons, of which seven are valence electrons. Neptunium metal is silvery and tarnishes when exposed to air. The element occurs in three allotropic forms and it normally exhibits five oxidation states, ranging from +3 to +7. It is radioactive, poisonous, pyrophoric, and capable of accumulating in bones, which makes the handling of neptunium dangerous.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thorium</span> Chemical element, symbol Th and atomic number 90

Thorium is a weakly radioactive metallic chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. Thorium is silvery and tarnishes black when it is exposed to air, forming thorium dioxide; it is moderately soft and malleable and has a high melting point. Thorium is an electropositive actinide whose chemistry is dominated by the +4 oxidation state; it is quite reactive and can ignite in air when finely divided.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nuclear reprocessing</span> Chemical operations that separate fissile material from spent fuel to be recycled as new fuel

Nuclear reprocessing is the chemical separation of fission products and actinides from spent nuclear fuel. Originally, reprocessing was used solely to extract plutonium for producing nuclear weapons. With commercialization of nuclear power, the reprocessed plutonium was recycled back into MOX nuclear fuel for thermal reactors. The reprocessed uranium, also known as the spent fuel material, can in principle also be re-used as fuel, but that is only economical when uranium supply is low and prices are high. A breeder reactor is not restricted to using recycled plutonium and uranium. It can employ all the actinides, closing the nuclear fuel cycle and potentially multiplying the energy extracted from natural uranium by about 60 times.

A period 7 element is one of the chemical elements in the seventh row of the periodic table of the chemical elements. The periodic table is laid out in rows to illustrate recurring (periodic) trends in the chemical behavior of the elements as their atomic number increases: a new row is begun when chemical behavior begins to repeat, meaning that elements with similar behavior fall into the same vertical columns. The seventh period contains 32 elements, tied for the most with period 6, beginning with francium and ending with oganesson, the heaviest element currently discovered. As a rule, period 7 elements fill their 7s shells first, then their 5f, 6d, and 7p shells in that order, but there are exceptions, such as uranium.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nuclear chemistry</span> Branch of chemistry concerned with radioactivity, transmutation and other nuclear processes

Nuclear chemistry is the sub-field of chemistry dealing with radioactivity, nuclear processes, and transformations in the nuclei of atoms, such as nuclear transmutation and nuclear properties.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Praseodymium</span> Chemical element, symbol Pr and atomic number 59

Praseodymium is a chemical element with the symbol Pr and the atomic number 59. It is the third member of the lanthanide series and is considered to be one of the rare-earth metals. It is a soft, silvery, malleable and ductile metal, valued for its magnetic, electrical, chemical, and optical properties. It is too reactive to be found in native form, and pure praseodymium metal slowly develops a green oxide coating when exposed to air.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tributyl phosphate</span> Chemical compound

Tributyl phosphate, known commonly as TBP, is an organophosphorus compound with the chemical formula (CH3CH2CH2CH2O)3PO. This colourless, odorless liquid finds some applications as an extractant and a plasticizer. It is an ester of phosphoric acid with n-butanol.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">PUREX</span> Spent fuel reprocessing process for plutonium and uranium recovery

PUREX is a chemical method used to purify fuel for nuclear reactors or nuclear weapons. PUREX is the de facto standard aqueous nuclear reprocessing method for the recovery of uranium and plutonium from used nuclear fuel. It is based on liquid–liquid extraction ion-exchange.

Liquid–liquid extraction (LLE), also known as solvent extraction and partitioning, is a method to separate compounds or metal complexes, based on their relative solubilities in two different immiscible liquids, usually water (polar) and an organic solvent (non-polar). There is a net transfer of one or more species from one liquid into another liquid phase, generally from aqueous to organic. The transfer is driven by chemical potential, i.e. once the transfer is complete, the overall system of chemical components that make up the solutes and the solvents are in a more stable configuration. The solvent that is enriched in solute(s) is called extract. The feed solution that is depleted in solute(s) is called the raffinate. LLE is a basic technique in chemical laboratories, where it is performed using a variety of apparatus, from separatory funnels to countercurrent distribution equipment called as mixer settlers. This type of process is commonly performed after a chemical reaction as part of the work-up, often including an acidic work-up.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Actinides in the environment</span>

Environmental radioactivity is not limited to actinides; non-actinides such as radon and radium are of note. While all actinides are radioactive, there are a lot of actinides or actinide-relating minerals in the Earth's crust such as uranium and thorium. These minerals are helpful in many ways, such as carbon-dating, most detectors, X-rays, and more.

In nuclear chemistry, the actinide concept proposed that the actinides form a second inner transition series homologous to the lanthanides. Its origins stem from observation of lanthanide-like properties in transuranic elements in contrast to the distinct complex chemistry of previously known actinides. Glenn T. Seaborg, one of the researchers who synthesized transuranic elements, proposed the actinide concept in 1944 as an explanation for observed deviations and a hypothesis to guide future experiments. It was accepted shortly thereafter, resulting in the placement of a new actinide series comprising elements 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium) below the lanthanides in Dmitri Mendeleev's periodic table of the elements.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Organoactinide chemistry</span> Study of chemical compounds containing actinide-carbon bonds

Organoactinide chemistry is the science exploring the properties, structure and reactivity of organoactinide compounds, which are organometallic compounds containing a carbon to actinide chemical bond.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">BTBP</span> A class of tetradentate ligand compounds

The bis-triazinyl bipyridines (BTBPs) are a class of chemical compounds which are tetradentate ligands similar in shape to quaterpyridine. The BTBPs are made by the reaction of hydrazine and a 1,2-diketone with 6,6'-dicyano-2,2'-bipyridine. The dicyanobipy can be made by reacting 2,2'-bipy with hydrogen peroxide in acetic acid, to form 2,2'-bipyridine-N,N-dioxide. The 2,2'-bipyridine-N,N-dioxide is then converted into the dicyano compound by treatment with potassium cyanide and benzoyl chloride in a mixture of water and THF.

The plutonyl ion is an oxycation of plutonium in the oxidation state +6, with the chemical formula PuO2+
. It is isostructural with the uranyl ion, compared to which it has a slightly shorter M–O bond. It is easily reduced to plutonium(III). The plutonyl ion forms many complexes, particularly with ligands that have oxygen donor atoms. Complexes of the plutonyl ion are important in nuclear fuel reprocessing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thorium compounds</span> Any chemical compound having at least one atom of thorium

Many compounds of thorium are known: this is because thorium and uranium are the most stable and accessible actinides and are the only actinides that can be studied safely and legally in bulk in a normal laboratory. As such, they have the best-known chemistry of the actinides, along with that of plutonium, as the self-heating and radiation from them is not enough to cause radiolysis of chemical bonds as it is for the other actinides. While the later actinides from americium onwards are predominantly trivalent and behave more similarly to the corresponding lanthanides, as one would expect from periodic trends, the early actinides up to plutonium have relativistically destabilised and hence delocalised 5f and 6d electrons that participate in chemistry in a similar way to the early transition metals of group 3 through 8: thus, all their valence electrons can participate in chemical reactions, although this is not common for neptunium and plutonium.

Lynda Soderholm is a physical chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory with a specialty in f-block elements. She is a senior scientist and the lead of the Actinide, Geochemistry & Separation Sciences Theme within Argonne's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division. Her specific role is the Separation Science group leader within Heavy Element Chemistry and Separation Science (HESS), directing basic research focused on low-energy methods for isolating lanthanide and actinide elements from complex mixtures. She has made fundamental contributions to understanding f-block chemistry and characterizing f-block elements.


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