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Tritium watch.jpg
General Info
Atomic Symbol Atomic symbol:: H-3
Atomic Number Atomic number:: 1
Atomic Weight Atomic weight:: 3.0024 g/mol
Neutrons Neutrons:: 2
Protons Protons:: 1
Appearance Appearance:: colorless gas
CAS number CAS number:: 10028-17-8
Half life Half life:: 12.32 years
Molecular weight Molecular weight:: 6.032098
Isotopic mass Isotopic mass:: 3.0160492 u
Excess energy Excess energy:: 14,949.794± 0.001 keV
Binding energy Binding energy:: 8,481.821± 0.004 keV
Beta emission Beta emission:: 0.018590 MeV

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. It is used in nuclear weapons and self-lighting. It is also known as hydrogen-3. It is naturally occurring as well as produced in nuclear reactors. It is the third isotope of hydrogen, hence the name, tritium.


Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. It is a colorless gas at STP (standard temperature and pressure). Tritium is very radioactive and its radioactivity is 9650 curies per gram. Tritium is used prominently in the world of nuclear fusion because of the massive amount of energy produced in its reaction with deuterium. Tritium contains one proton and two neutrons. It does however, have the same charge as hydrogen. Tritium becomes more powerful when it becomes close to other atomic nuclei. Because of this, tritium can fuse with light atoms very easily. Just like hydrogen, tritium is fairly hard to contain. Trtium, because of it's radioactivity, can cause radiation poisoning. In such a case, it can mix with water to become tritiated water where the tritium replaces the standard hydrogen. This tritiated water is also corrosive. Tritiated water can be used to measure the total amount of water in a persons body. [1]


Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Tritium is produced through the neutron activation of Lithium-6 in nuclear reactors. This process yields a fairly low amount of energy, 4.8 MeV. However, when deuterium is fused with tritium, 17.6 MeV is produced. Tritium can also be produced from high energy neutrons from Lithium-7. Boron-10 can also produce tritium on occasion. Another way to produce tritium is in heavy water-moderated reactors when deuterium captures a neutron. This process produces tritiated water or, heavy water. A very uncommon occurrence of tritium is in the fission of uranium-235, plutonium-239, and uranium-233. This is so uncommon that it will only occur about 1 in every 10,000 fissions. Tritium also occurs naturally when cosmic rays associate with atmospheric gases. [2]

Radioactive glow stick containing tritium that will glow for approximately 10 years.


Tritium has a few well known uses. One of them being self-powered lighting. The radioactive decay causes phosphors to light up and glow in the dark. Tritium is used in self-lighting for watches, exit signs, and even night sights on firearms. Tritium is now used as a replacement for radium because radium causes bone cancer. The demand for tritium in the nation is about 400 grams per year and the cost is about 30,000 dollars per gram. [3] Another use for tritium is in nuclear fission bombs and hydrogen bombs.

Tritium night sights--they glow in the dark for 12 years!

Nuclear Weaponry

Tritium is very common in nuclear weaponry. It is an enhancing element in fission bombs and the fission portion of hydrogen bombs which is known as boosting. Before a nuclear explosion happens with tritium in it, the tritium has to be absorbed as a hydride with deuterium. This process produces neutrons that bounce everywhere and can hit plutonium or uranium and cause a nuclear chain reaction. The use of tritium has been fundamental in the understanding of nuclear forces. [4]


  1. Radionuclide Safety Data Sheets Occupational Safety & Environmental Health. Web. Accessed on 6/5/13. Author Unknown.
  2. Zerriffi, Hisham. Tritium: The environmental, health, budgetary, and strategic effects of the Department of Energy’s decision to produce tritium Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. web. Last updated October 2012.
  3. Willms, Scott. Tritium Supply Considerations Los Alamos National Laboratory. Web. January 14, 2003.
  4. Tritium Production Federation of American Scientists. Web. Last Updated October 21, 1998. Author Unknown.