Lithium (Atomic Symbol: Li)

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Lithium (atomic symbol: Li) is a soft silvery-white metal that occurs in hard rock types such as spodumene and in brines found in many locations around the world. It is the lightest member of the alkali group of elements and has two stable isotopes – Li-6 and li-7.

The majority of world production of lithium is used in lithium-ion batteries for electric cars and also in ceramics and glass. The isotopic composition of li-7 in natural form has a large variation and it is a challenge to produce li-7 with high purity.

In nuclear power li-7 is used in small quantities as an additive to the primary coolant in PWR reactors to control the water-chemistry pH. It is expected to have greater demand as a main component of the fluoride coolant in molten salt reactors, where it will help to protect against corrosion and prevent tritium formation by neutron capture.

Enrichment of natural li-7 to Li-6 for nuclear weapons and future controlled fusion research has left a significant US stockpile of both enriched tailings depleted in Li-6 and unprocessed li-7 (at Portsmouth, Ohio and at the K-25 site at Oak Ridge, Tennessee). Several methods of isotopic separation are in development for the processing of these materials, including the photo-ionisation of liquid lithium using atomic vapour laser isotope separation (AVLIS).

Acute toxicity if swallowed or inhaled causing vomiting and gasping, burning sensation in eyes, pulmonary irritation and lung inflammation. Chronic exposure may cause kidney or liver damage and respiratory problems.

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