Lithium-6

Lithium-6 is an isotope of lithium. It is used as a neutron absorber in nuclear fusion and also as a source of tritium. This is an essential material for the manufacture of thermonuclear weapons. The most important thermonuclear material is tritium, which is produced by the reaction of lithium-6 with a neutron. Tritium has a higher reactivity than deuterium. Because of this, the reaction is very efficient.

Lithium is usually found in salt lakes in South America and also in brines. In addition, it is a common ingredient in lithium-ion batteries. Moreover, it is an important chemical component in molten salt reactors. Therefore, the demand for it is expected to increase.

Lithium has two stable isotopes: lithium-6 and lithium-7. Although these are both mainly used in nuclear power, lithium-7 is particularly important in pressurized water reactors. To make lithium-7, it must be separated from the other natural isotopes.

Li-6 and Li-7 isotope separation has been done chemically in various ways. For example, crown-ether separation uses metal vapour to separate them. Another method is atomic vapour laser isotope separation.

Earlier, the US used a mercury exchange process to produce lithium-7. However, it was stopped in 1963, and now the USA has a large inventory of unprocessed lithium.

The world faces a shortage of lithium by 2025. This problem will be alleviated only if the production of Li-7 is increased. The US Department of Energy planned to set aside 200 kg of Li-7 in reserve in 2013.

A new process for producing lithium has been developed. SINAP has introduced centrifugal extraction.

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