Thorium is a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive metal discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Scandinavian god of war. Thorium was found by Berzelius in a sample of a mineral with an unknown substance that was given to him by the Reverend Has Morten Thrane Esmark. Berzelius found that the unfamiliar element in Esmark's mineral, now known as thorite (ThSiO4), was thorium (Th). This essay will discuss what Thorium is comprised of, the different properties associated with the element, different types of uses and the kinds of research and development occurring with Thorium.
Thorium's atomic number is 90 and has an atomic weight of 232.0381. Thorium can be recovered commercially from the phosphate mineral monazite, which contains anywhere from 3% to 12% thorium oxide (ThO2) along with rare earth minerals. Much of the internal heat that the earth produces has been attributed to thorium. Several methods are available for producing thorium metal. It can be obtained by reducing thorium oxide with calcium, by electrolysis of anhydrous thorium chloride in a fused mixture of sodium and potassium chlorides, by calcium reduction of thorium tetrachloride mixed with anhydrous zinc chloride, and by reduction of thorium tetrachloride with an alkali metal. Small amounts of thorium are present in all rocks, soil, water, plants, and animals. Soil contains an average of about 6 parts of thorium per million parts of soil (6 ppm). More than 99% of natural thorium exists in the form of thorium-232, which can be broken down into two parts; a small part called "alpha radiation- and a bigger part called the "decay product-. The decay product itself is not stable, however as it continues to break down through a series of other decay products, a stable product can be achieved. Even though the final product may be stable, it is far from safe for the average person.