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What is Heavy Water

Written by sudarshangk

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Heavy water is the term used to represent the water that is enriched with Deuterium. Deuterium is the isotope of hydrogen and it differs from hydrogen in the extra neutron that is present in deuterium. The name heavy water is given owing to the increase in weight that occurs due to the presence of extra neutron. It would be worth mentioning here that, heavy water is 10 percent heavier than the normal water. The chemical formula of heavy water is D2O (Deuterium Oxide). Heavy water is used mainly in nuclear reactors for various purposes.


The CANDU nuclear reactor in Canada is one main place where heavy water is used. In the nuclear reactor, the main function of heavy water is that of moderator, wherein it is used to slow down the neutrons that are used in the fission reaction. Thus, heavy water plays a major role in regulating the speed of nuclear fission reaction. After the discovery of deuterium in the year 1932, heavy water was produced. Heavy water was then used in nuclear reactors for the first time in the year 1938. Heavy water also plays the role of transfer agent. Heavy water is available naturally, but in very little amounts. Though normal water can be used as moderator, it tends to absorb the neutrons, thereby, slowing down the rate of the reaction. The ratio of normal water to heavy water in the nature is 4500:1 and the source of heavy water is water in lakes.

The extraction of heavy water from various sources is done with the use of special methods under controlled conditions with the help of hydrogen sulphide as an agent. Though there are speculations about the radioactive nature of heavy water, it has been proven that heavy water is not radioactive. However, consumption of heavy water in excess can lead to problems in the body, as it has a toxic nature. Prolonged consumption of heavy water can lead to death over a period of time. Since heavy water is heavier than normal water, it sinks when mixed with normal water. The boiling point of heavy water is 101.42 C, higher than that of normal water and its freezing point is 3.81 C.

Heavy water is also made use of in the process of detection of neutrinos and in production of tritium, which is another isotope of hydrogen. In biology, heavy water finds applications in the laboratories wherein the metabolic rate is calculated. Owing to the numerous uses of heavy water, it has utmost importance in the field of chemistry.

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