Main Encyclopedia of Inorganic Chemistry [10 Volumes]

Encyclopedia of Inorganic Chemistry [10 Volumes]

The ultimate resource on inorganic chemistry – new and completely revised, 10 years after publication of the First Edition
The first edition of the Encyclopedia of Inorganic Chemistry treated the elements of the periodic system in alphabetical order, with multiple entries for key elements. The articles from the First Edition were written more than 10 years ago and all areas of inorganic chemistry have seen such a vigorous development that it was necessary to update most articles and to add a considerable number of new articles. The result of this major work is the proud Encylopedia of Inorganic Chemistry Second Edition (EIC-2). New – now includes colour 30% growth on previous edition – now 6,640 pages, published in 10 volumes
EIC-2 continues to present articles in alphabetical order, but the content has been slightly reorganized to the following subject areas: Main Group Elements; Transition Metals and Coordination Chemistry; Organometallic Chemistry; Bioinorganic Chemistry; Solid State, Materials,Nanomaterials and Catalysis; and General Inorganic Chemistry, Theoretical and Computational Methods.
Year: 2005
Edition: 2nd
Publisher: Wiley
Language: english
Pages: 6655
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ISBN 13: 9780470860786
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Actinides: Inorganic &
Coordination Chemistry

elements, actinium through lawrencium, may be considered
and discussed together, as will be the case in this chapter.
1.2 Discovery and Production

1,2

D. Webster Keogh
1

Applied Marine Technology, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA, USA
2
Glenn T. Seaborg Institute for Transactinium Science, Los Alamos,
NM, USA
Based in part on the article Actinides: Inorganic & Coordination
Chemistry by Grigorii L. Soloveichik which appeared in the
Encyclopedia of Inorganic Chemistry, First Edition.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11

History
Uses
Overview of General Trends
Structure and Bonding with f Orbitals
Electrochemical Properties
Characterization of Actinide Complexes
Aqueous Coordination Complexes
Nonaqueous Coordination Complexes
Solid-state Materials
Health and Safety Factors
References

1
3
6
7
10
12
13
17
21
29
29

1 HISTORY
1.1 Definition
The series of 14 elements from thorium (atomic number
90) through lawrencium (atomic number 103) are commonly
referred to as the actinides. In the current periodic table, the
f-block elements, actinides (5f ) and lanthanides (4f ) are separated from the other elements. This modern placement as
well as their name is attributed to Prof. Glenn T. Seaborg,
who in the 1930s proposed the actinide theory. As a result of
this concept, the actinides were removed from their original
placement in the Hubbard Periodic Chart of the Elements
and joined in a new period with their rare earth analogs, the
lanthanides. This arrangement allowed for the transactinide
elements (Z > 103) to be properly placed within the d-block
elements. While other machinations of the periodic table have
been derived, for example, three dimensional with the f-block
extending behind the main table, there remains one fundamental classification issue. The debate revolves around which
element starts and ends the actinides. Traditionally, actinium
has been considered a group III element and thorium, the
first f-block; however, it has been postulated that lawrencium
should occupy the position as the first group III element.
This has led to a number of different graphical representations; however, the chemistry tends to be such that all 15

The actinides are all radioactive elements. Actinium,
thorium, protactinium, and uranium are the only four actinides
that have been found in the environment; the others are
artificial, being produced through various nuclear reactions.
It should be noted that at the creation of the universe some
amount of 244 Pu could have been formed; however, with an
80 million year half-life, it would have fully decayed during
the past 10 billion years.
Uranium was the first actinide element to be identified.
In 1789, M. H. Klaproth discovered the presence of a new
element in a sample of pitchblende (impure, mineralized form
of UO2 ). Klaproth named the element uranite after the recently
discovered planet Uranus. Nearly 100 years later, Becquerel
made the initial discovery of the radioactive behavior of
uranium through experiments with uranium minerals and
photographic plates.
Thorium was discovered in 1828 by J. J. Berzelius in a
Norwegian mineral. As a result of its Norwegian legacy,
thorium was named after Thor, a mythological Scandinavian
god. In addition to having a natural long-lived isotope, thorium
is constantly produced in nature through the decay of 235 U and
238
U.
The earliest discovery of actinium is attributed to
A. Debierne in 1899, with F. Giesel also identifying and
isolating the element in 1902. The name actinium is derived
from the Greek word for ray, ‘aktinos’, which acknowledges
the radioactive behavior of the element.
Protactinium was the last of the naturally occurring
actinides to be identified. The original name for the element,
brevium (latin for ‘brief ’), was suggested by K. Fajans and
O. H. Göhring, who first identified the radioactive element in
1913. However, after 231 Pa was isolated by groups in Germany
(O. Hahn and L. Meitner) and the United Kingdom (F. Soddy
and J. Cranston), it was ultimately named after the Greek word
‘protos’, meaning first. It is the rarest and most expensive of
the naturally occurring actinide elements.
As previously stated, the remainder of the actinides are
artificial, produced either through neutron irradiation or heavyion bombardment followed by various nuclear decay paths.
Table 1 provides the details of the original synthesis, including
date, discovering group, and nuclear process.
1.3 Radioactivity
All of the actinide elements have unstable nuclei and
therefore are radioactive. The types of radiation that can
be encountered are alpha, beta, neutron, and gamma. This
ionizing radiation provides both advantages and disadvantages
when studying the chemistry of the actinides.

2

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

Table 1 Identification and synthesis of the actinide elements
Available
quantities

Element

Date

Discovering group(s)

Synthesis

Actinium (89) Ac
derived from Greek word for ray
(akinos)
Thorium (90) Th
named after Thor, mythological
Norse god
Protactinium (91) Pa
derived from Greek word for first
(protos)
Uranium (92) U
named after the planet uranus
Neptunium (93) Np
named after the planet neptune
Plutonium (94) Pu
named after the planet pluto

1899

A. Debierne

Naturally occurring

kg

1828

J. J. Berzelius

Naturally occurring

kg

1913

K. Fajans, O. Gorhing
O. Hanh, L. Meitner
F. Soddy, J. Cranston
M. H. Klaproth

Naturally occurring

kg

Naturally occurring

kg

1
Bombardment of 238
92 U with 0 n

kg

2
Bombardment of 238
92 U with 1 H

kg

Americium (95) Am
named after America
Curium (96) Cm
named after P. and M. Curie
Berkelium (97) Bk
named after University of
California, Berkeley
Californium (98) Cf
named after the State and
University of California
Einsteinium (99) Es
named after A. Einstein

1944

1
Bombardment of 239
94 Pu with 0 n

kg

1789
1940
1940

1944
1949

4
Bombardment of 239
94 Pu with 2 He

g

4
Bombardment of 241
95 Am with 2 He

mg

1950

S. G. Thompson, K. Street,
A. Ghiorso, G. T. Seaborg

4
Bombardment of 242
96 Cm with 2 He

µg

1952

Argonne Nat’l Lab, Los
Alamos Nat’l Lab, University
of California
Argonne Nat’l Lab, Los
Alamos Nat’l Lab, University
of California
A. Ghiorso, B. G. Harvey,
G. R. Choppin,
S. G. Thompson,
G. T. Seaborg.
A. Ghiorso, T. Sikkeland,
J. R. Walton, G. T. Seaborg
A. Ghiorso, T. Sikkeland,
A. E. Larsh, R. M. Latimer

Multiple neutron capture by 235
92 U
in a thermonuclear explosion

µg

Multiple neutron capture by 235
92 U
in a thermonuclear explosion

µg

4
Bombardment of 253
99 Es with 2 He

atoms

15
Bombardment of 243
95 Am with 7 He

atoms

– 252
Bombardment of 249
Cf with
98
10
243
18
11
5 B and 5 B or 95 Am with 8 O

atoms

Fermium (100) Fm
named after E. Fermi

1953

Mendelevium (101) Md
named after D. Mendeleev

1955

Nobelium (102) No
named after A. Nobel
Lawrencium (103) Lr
named after E. Lawrence

E. M. McMillian,
P. H. Abelson
G. T. Seaborg,
E. M. McMillian,
A. C. Wahl, J. Kennedy
G. T. Seaborg, R. A. James,
L. O. Morgan
G. T. Seaborg, R. A. James,
L. O. Morgan, A. Ghiorso
S. G. Thompson, A. Ghiorso,
G. T. Seaborg

1957 – 1963
1961 – 1965

One of the most common topics asked of those who
work with the actinides relates to handling procedures. The
radioactive nature of these elements does require the use
of special facilities, processes, and precautions. However,
working with radioactive elements in subcritical quantities is
as safe, if not safer, than handling many of the toxic chemicals
found in a typical synthetic laboratory. The primary advantage
in handling radioactive material is the ease with which these
elements can be detected. Unlike other toxic chemicals, for
example, lead, thallium, arsenic, and so on, a simple survey
(seconds) with a radiation detector will show if containment
of the material has been lost, where it is, and approximately
how much is present. With appropriate monitoring, virtually
no uptake of radioactive material occurs, and if any personnel
contamination does occur, it is quickly detected and treated.

It is interesting to note that with proper planning and limiting
the quantity of material that is handled in an experiment, the
overall annual radiation exposure for people working in a
synthetic or analytical radiological laboratory is less than that
found for aircraft crew. In order to fully mitigate the risks
of handling radioactive material and maintain a minimum
radiation fields, it is important to have an understanding of the
nuclear processes that are typically involved or could occur.
An example of a common situation that leads to greater
radiation exposure levels than would be expected occurs with
some uranium compounds. Depleted uranium 238 U is an αemitting isotope with an extremely long half-life, 4 billion
years. As a result of this long half-life, 238 U is generally not
considered to present a significant radiation hazard. However,
uranium fluorides, a typical synthetic starting material, can

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

undergo an αn reaction in which a neutron is released from
the fluorine nucleus upon reaction with the uranium-emitted
α-particle.
The interaction of radiation with matter can have profound
effects. Whether in solid, solution, or gaseous states,
radioactivity can impact the environment and therefore
change the molecular speciation of the actinides. To put
this into perspective, three examples are discussed below:
plutonium metal, americium crystals, and an aqueous solution
of plutonium.
The most commonly used isotope of plutonium is 239 Pu,
which has a half-life of 2.41 × 104 years. When the 239 Pu
atom decays, an α-particle with an energy of 5 MeV and an
235
U atom with an energy of 86 keV are emitted. For Pu metal,
this emitted α-particle or He nucleus travels approximately
10 µm, while the heavier α-recoil atom, 235 U, travels 12 nm.
As these fragments travel through the metallic structure, Pu
atoms are displaced off their lattice positions, forming Frenkel
Pairs. For each disintegration, approximately 2600 Frenkel
Pairs are formed, and over the course of 20 years, every atom
in a piece of Pu metal has switched positions. This property
becomes critical when trying to predict the long-term behavior
of Pu materials.
While metallic structures can do a significant degree of
self-annealing, single crystals of molecular complexes can
suffer irreversible damage in a relatively short time. The best
example of this can be found in crystals of Am compounds.
241
Am has a half-life of 432.7 years. When a single crystal
containing this highly radioactive material is isolated and
analyzed by X-ray analysis, the intensity of the diffraction
from the crystal has been observed to decrease with time,
presumably as the crystal lattice is damaged. In the extreme,
a visible change can occur where an originally clear crystal
can become opaque in less than a day. These issues can
partially be alleviated by using 243 Am, which has a half-life
of 7.38 × 103 years. However, the radiation clearly provides
a certain level of difficulty in obtaining crystal structures of
molecular Am compounds.
In aqueous solutions of 239 Pu, the emission of α-particles
has an entirely different effect. Scheme 1 shows the reactions
that can occur in acidic solutions of Pu. The highly energetic
α-particle causes the radiolysis of water, producing H and OH
radicals as well as hydrogen peroxide. In acidic conditions,
these species reduce Pu4+ and PuO2 2+ ions to give Pu3+
and PuO2 + , respectively. The radiolysis along with the
disproportionation and reproportionation reactions shown in
Scheme 2 results in oxidation state changes for 239Pu solutions.
An example of this instability is represented by an acidic
solution of PuO2 2+ , which degrades by being reduced to Pu4+
at a rate of approximately 1.5% per day.
The effect of radiation on actinide containing materials and
solutions can be altered by careful selection of the isotopes.
For uranium, plutonium, americium, and curium, there are a
number of different isotopes with varying half-lifes that can
be used. In Table 2, the commonly available isotopes of the

2Pu4+

+ 2H2O

Pu3+ + PuO2+ +

Pu4+

+ PuO2+

Pu3+ + PuO22+

2PuO2+ + H+

Pu4+ + PuO22+ +

3

H+

2H2O

Scheme 1

Pu4+
nH2O + a particle

Pu3+

H • OH • HOOH
PuO2+

PuO22+

Scheme 2

light actinides are listed along with the production methods
and decay mechanisms. In the case of the plutonium example
given above, by using the 242 Pu isotope, which has a half-life
an order of magnitude greater than 239 Pu, solutions that show
much lower radiation effects, for example longer oxidation
state stability, can be made.

2 USES
This section is not intended to be an inclusive list of the
uses of the actinides. The uses highlighted were selected on the
basis of how widespread the use is or where inorganic and/or
coordination chemistry of the actinides play a central role.

2.1 Nuclear Fuel Cycle
There are more than 400 operating nuclear reactors throughout the world. These reactors supply nearly 17% of the world’s
total electricity production capacity. The dependence on
nuclear power varies significantly from country to country with
some like Lithuania and France, which derive approximately
80% of their electricity from nuclear power to the United
States, which while having the largest number of reactors at
104, only pulls 20% of its electricity from nuclear sources.
In order to address the needs for nuclear fuel, many
countries have gone to a closed fuel cycle, which entails
multiple steps, including mining, conversion, enrichment, fuel
fabrication, fuel burning, spent fuel storage, reprocessing,
stabilization, and disposal. Owing to the many transformations
and separations required during these steps, inorganic
coordination chemistry plays vital roles throughout the entire
nuclear fuel cycle. As such, the fuel cycle is a prime example
of the juncture of fundamental, applied, and environmental
actinide chemistry.

4

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

Table 2 Half-lifes, mode of production, and decay mechanisms for the most widely used isotopes of the light actinides
Element

Isotope

Half-life (year)

Route of production

89 Ac
90 Th
91 Pa
92 U

227
232
231
235
238

21.8
1.40 × 1010
3.25 × 104
7.04 × 108
4.47 × 109

Natural
Natural
Natural
Natural
Natural

93 Np

237

2.14 × 106

235
92 U

94 Pu

238
239
242
244

95 Am
96 Cm

241
243
248

2.41 × 104
3.76 × 10

5

8.26 × 107
432.7
7.38 × 103
3.40 × 105

238
92 U

β
α
α
α
α
1
0n

−−−
1
0n

1
0n

−−−
310 n

239
94 Pu

−−−

242
94 Pu

−−−

239
94 Pu

239
92 U

210 n

−−−
210 n

1
0n

−−−

238
93 Np

210 n

241
95 Am

Uranium ore is typically mined or leached in situ. For
the mined ore, the raw material is milled to produce a high
surface area slurry, which is then treated with H2 SO4 . The
sulfuric acid oxidizes the uranium to the soluble hexavalent
state. The addition of base to the solution precipitates an oxide
of uranium known as ‘yellowcake’, U3 O8 . A similar process
is used for the in situ leaching of uranium ore except that the
initial treatment is performed on bores with a slightly acidic
and high oxygenated aqueous solution that is raised to the
surface and allowed to go through an extraction process to
remove the uranium.
No matter which mining process is used, the final U3 O8 is
converted to UF6 through a multistep process that takes the
uranium through multiple species and oxidation states. In the
first step of the conversion process, the uranium is purified
by dissolving the yellowcake in nitric acid to produce the
soluble uranyl ion, UO2 2+ , and purifying the aqueous stream
through a solvent extraction process. The purified uranyl
nitrate, UO2 (NO3 )2 ·6H2 O, is heated to produce uranium
trioxide, UO3 . The conversion of UO3 to UF6 is not an
efficient process, so the oxide is reduced at high temperatures
by H2 . The resulting UO2 is treated with HF to give UF4 ,
commonly known as ‘green salt’. A reaction between UF4
and gaseous F2 is the final step in the conversion process and
yields nearly quantitatively gaseous UF6 .
The purpose of going through the entire conversion process
is to obtain a uranium compound that can be run through a
separations process to produce a product that is enriched in
235
U. Natural uranium is about 0.7% 235 U; however, electricity
producing light water nuclear reactors require 3 to 5% 235 U.
The gaseous UF6 allows for multiple enrichment techniques to
be used, including gaseous diffusion, gaseous centrifugation,
and laser techniques. The first two techniques rely on the mass
differences between 235 U and 238 U to effect the separation. By

236
92 U

−−−

237
93 Np

86.4

Decay

−−−

1
0n

237
92 U

−−−
1
0n

−−−

237
93 Np

238
94 Pu

239
93 Np

α

+ β−

+ β−

242
94 Pu

α
239
94 Pu

+ β−

α
α

244
94 Pu
241
94 Pu

+ β−

α
1
0n

−−−

243
95 Am

241
95 Am

+ β−

α
α
α

far the most commonly used physical method for enrichment
is gaseous diffusion.
Once enriched, the UF6 needs to be reduced to either
uranium metal or UO2 to be formed into fuel pins. A variety
of methods can be used to accomplish the conversion to the
oxide; however, the predominately used technique involves
reduction of the UF6 to U metal fully, using Ca at high
temperatures, followed by burning in oxygen. Once formed,
the UO2 is pressed into pellets, which are then fed into
fuel rods.
The burning of the uranium-based nuclear fuel causes a
cavalcade of chemical and physical transformations. Nuclear
reactions lead to the formation of a variety of actinide
elements, for example, Np, Pu, Am, and Cm, as radioactive
fission products. As a result of the production of these highly
radioactive elements, burnt nuclear fuel must be allowed to
‘cool’ until the short-lived isotopes decay away and reduce
the thermal generation. The cooling typically takes place in
either water ponds or engineered dry casks/facilities.
Once ‘cooled’, the fuel can be manipulated within hot
cell facilities for fuel reprocessing. In the United States, the
reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel has not been embraced.
The primary basis for this decision is the reduction of the
threat of nuclear proliferation by avoiding the production of
pure streams of plutonium. Some of the other concerns for
reprocessing are based in economics. Through the Advanced
Fuel Cycle Initiative within the U.S. Department of Energy,
the technical feasibility of an economically, politically, and
environmentally viable fuel cycle that includes recycling is
being investigated. Despite the US efforts, most of countries
that have nuclear production capabilities use reprocessing.
The chemistry of reprocessing is quite complex, but it
embodies nearly every common aspect of inorganic chemistry: coordination, reduction/oxidation reactions, hard – soft

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

acid – base theory, and so on. The primary purpose of reprocessing is to separate uranium and plutonium from the rest of
the actinides and fission products that are present in the spent
nuclear fuel. The method of choice to perform these separations is liquid – liquid extraction, for example PUREX process.
To effect the primary separation, the spent fuel is dissolved
in 7 M HNO3 . The resulting solution contains the uranyl ion,
UO2 2+ , and tetravalent plutonium cation, Pu4+ . This aqueous
solution is contacted with an organic solvent, for example kerosene, which contains tributylphosphate, OP(OBun )3
(TBP). The TBP molecule coordinates uranium and plutonium nitrate complexes and makes them soluble in the organic
phase. The molecules predominately attributed to this extraction are UO2 (NO3 )2 (TBP)2 and Pu(NO3 )4 (TBP)2 ; however,
research continues to show that these simple formulations may
not accurately represent the speciation or the chemical environment during the extraction. In order to separate the uranium
and plutonium, a reducing agent, for example Fe(SO3 NH2 )2 ,
in an aqueous phase is contacted with the actinide-laden
organic phase. The PuVI is reduced to PuIII , which does not
form a strong complex and therefore selectively partitions to
the aqueous phase. The uranium and plutonium can be purified
further and the respective oxides produced. The oxides are
then combined to produce a new nuclear fuel called mixed
oxide fuel (MOX ).
The remaining actinides and fission products must be
stabilized for interim storage, long-term storage or final
disposal. In order to optimize the storage facilities, some
additional separations of the remaining actinides and fission
products are required. The European Union has been leading
the course in the implementation of advanced separation
schemes, including diamide extraction (DIAMEX), selective
actinides extraction (SANEX) and SESAME. In DIAMEX, a
diamide is used to separate the actinides and the lanthanides
from the fission products. In SANEX, a dithiophosphinic acid
is proposed to separate the actinides from the lanthanides.
The reason this process works is the slightly higher degree
of covalency that occurs in the bonding of the actinides
versus the lanthanides. In the SESAME process, americium
and curium are separated using heteropolyanions, for example
phosphotungstate P2 W17 O61 10− , that coordinate Am(IV) but
not Cm(III).
The stabilization of the nuclear waste products is usually
performed by immobilizing the oxides of the radioactive
material in glass. This process is known as vitrification. The
environmental aspects of storing large quantities of radioactive
glass logs are related to the leachability of the elements from
the glass structure.1,2

2.2 Nuclear Weapons
Outside of nuclear energy, the most well-known utilization
of the actinides is in nuclear weapons. The fissile nature
of 235 U and 239 Pu has been exploited in the creation of
nuclear arsenals throughout the world. Primarily found in the

5

metallic state within the weapons, the isotopic and chemical
purifications of these elements require complex separation
chemistry and physics that are dependent on inorganic and
coordination compounds.

2.3 Depleted Uranium Armor and Projectiles
Another military use of the actinide metals is in tank armor
and armor piercing projectiles. Depleted uranium metal is an
extremely dense material, for example, density of α-phase
U is ∼19 g cm−3 , and is only mildly radioactive, half-life of
238
U is 4.5 × 109 years. When this metal is incorporated into
a projectile, the density and metallic properties allow it to
penetrate deeply into heavily armored vehicles.

2.4 Heat Sources
The portable generation or storage of power is essential
to space exploration. In addition, maintaining working parts
in the cold vacuum of space requires constant generation of
heat. The electrical and heat requirements for a typical space
mission, for example, landing a rover on the surface of Mars,
drive the need for extremely dense power sources. One of
the densest sources of energy is stored within the nucleus of
radioactive materials. In order to tap into this energy source,
space agencies have relied on plutonium in the form of the
α-emitting 238 Pu isotope. The half-life for 238 Pu is 87 years,
and when the dioxide is formed into pellets, it self-heats,
producing an orange glow. The following example can be
used to emphasize the energy density of these materials: a
250-g (3 cm in diameter) 238 PuO2 ball acts as a 100-W heat
source. The publicity of using these heat sources peaked in
1997 with the launch of the Cassini – Huygens Mission to
Saturn and Titan. The Cassini spacecraft was equipped with
more than 200 238 PuO2 pellets (150 g each) within three
radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). Each one of
these RTGs put out 4400 W of thermal energy at 1200 to
1300 ◦ C. Thermocouples are able to convert this thermal
energy into 285 W of electricity. As for pure heat generation,
the Cassini spacecraft and the Huygens probe use radioisotope
heating units (RHUs). The RHUs are constructed with 2.7-g
pellets of 238 PuO2 and maintain a temperature of 35 to 40 ◦ C.
2.5 Smoke Detectors
Americium plays a vital role in maintaining the safety
of homes across the world. The α-emitting 241 Am isotope
can be found in most smoke detectors in the form of the
dioxide, AmO2 . The α-particle emission causes the air to
ionize between two electrodes. The ionization of the oxygen
and nitrogen allows a steady current to flow between the
electrodes. However, when smoke enters the detector, the αparticles are absorbed by the smoke and therefore ionize less of
the air, which causes the current to drop and the alarm to signal.

6

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

2.6 Lantern Mantles

3 OVERVIEW OF GENERAL TRENDS

One of the primary uses of thorium was in the production
of lantern mantles. (Note: new materials have replaced Th, but
older Th-based lantern mantles can still be found.) The mixture
of 99% ThO2 and 1% CeO2 particles were impregnated into
the mantle fabric. The burning of the ThO2 produces a fairly
bright light. However, the addition of the CeO2 increases the
thermal conductivity and catalyzes the combustion of the gas,
allowing the flame to be brighter than would be possible with
a thorium-only system.

Discussions of the chemistry and physical properties of
the actinide elements are based typically around the nature
of the 5f-electrons. Comparisons are routinely made between
the actinides and their 4f-bretheren, the lanthanides. For true
comparisons, it is convenient to separate the actinides into two
distinct groups, the light or early actinides (Ac – Am) and the
heavy or late actinides (Cm – Lr). The chemistry of the light
actinides is intermediate between that of the transition metals,
for example, the ability to access multiple oxidation states
and engage covalent bonding, and that of the lanthanides, for
example, significant degree of ionic bonding. Conversely, the
chemistry of the late actinides is very reminiscent of their
lanthanide analogs. The most common and stable oxidation
state for the heavy actinides is the trivalent state, and the
bonding is almost entirely ionic in nature.

2.7 Catalysis
Thorium and uranium are used in commercial catalytic
systems. Industrially, thorium is used in the catalytic
production of hydrocarbons for motor fuel. The direct
conversion of synthetic gas to liquid fuel is accomplished by a
Ni-ThO2 /Al2 O3 catalyst that oxidatively cracks hydrocarbons
with steam. The primary benefit to the incorporation of thorium
is the increased resistance to coke deactivation. Industrially,
U3 O8 also has been shown to be active in the decomposition
of organics, including benzene and butanes and as supports
for methane steam reforming catalysts. Uranium nitrides have
also been used as a catalyst for the cracking of NH3 at 550 ◦ C,
which results in high yields of H2 .

0

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

3.1 Oxidation States
The chart of oxidation state and f-electron configuration
between the actinides and the lanthanides is provided in
Figure 1. The light actinides exhibit significant oxidation
state variability with valences from II to VII. The boxes
with question marks indicate oxidation states that have been
reported in the literature once but are questionable and have not

VIII

VIII

VII

VI

V

IV

III

II

I

0

Ac

La

Th

Ce

Pa

Pr
?

U

Pm

Np
Pu

?

Am
?

f0
f1

?
f2

Bk

f3
f

Cf

4

Sm

fn

?

Cm

Eu

f0
f1

Gd
f2

Tb

f3
f

f5
f6

Es
f7

Fm

f8
f
f10

Md
No
Lr

Nd

9

f11
f12
f13
f14

Figure 1 Classification of actinides and lanthanides

4

?

f5
Valence fn electronic
configuration

f6

Dy
Ho

f7

Er

f8
f

9

Tm

f10
f11
f12
f13

Yb
Lu
f14

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

been verified by a secondary source. The maximum possible
oxidation state can be reached for the elements from Ac
through Np. There has been a single report for the synthesis of
a PuVIII complex; however, this result has not been confirmed.
In addition to being able to reach the maximum possible
oxidation state to get to a f 0 system, the most stable oxidation
state increases from Ac to U, AcIII , ThIV , PaV , and UVI . After
U, the most persistent oxidation state declines, for example,
NpV , PuIV , AmIII , until Cm, in which the trivalent ion continues
to be the stable species. The only exception to this is No, where
the divalent state predominates.

3.2 Chemical Characteristics
The majority of the chemistry that has been investigated
for the actinide elements has been in aqueous solutions. For
the light actinides in acidic solutions, four types of cations
persist: trivalent, tetravalent, pentavalent, and hexavalent. The
later two ions are always found to have trans oxo ligands,
making up a linear dioxo unit. Actinide ions of this type
are typically referred to ‘yls’ and have the names, uranyl (1,
UO2 +/2+ ), neptunyl (2, NpO2 +/2+ ), plutonyl (3, PuO2 +/2+ ),
(4, AmO2 +/2+ ) and so on.

O

O

O

O

U

Np

Pu

Am

O
(1)

O
(2)

O
(3)

O
(4)

The metal ion affinity to form complexes is dependent on
the oxidation state and the actinide element. For the cations
stable in acidic solutions, the ligand-binding constants are
generally greatest for the tetravalent state, followed by the
trivalent and hexavalent states, which tend to be similar, and
least for the pentavalent state. It should be noted that the lack of
binding affinity of the pentavalent state for the light actinides,
for example, Np and Pu, leads to some of the primary issues
in the environmental migration of the ions. This general trend
can be attributed to changes in the charge to size ratio of the
ion as well as the electronic repulsion of the oxo ligands on
the penta- and hexavalent ions. The charge to size ratio can
also change for a given oxidation state on going across the
actinide series. The increase in this ratio across the series is
due to the decreasing ionic radii of the actinide ions through
a phenomenon called the actinide contraction. The actinide
contraction is discussed in the next section but is equivalent to
the lanthanide contraction that leads to similar ionic radii being
observed between second- and third-row transition metals.
The electrochemistry of the light actinides is impacted by
the stability of the linear dioxo unit. The redox reactions in
which there is no making or breaking of an An=O bond are
fast and reversible, for example, reducing the tetravalent to

7

the trivalent. However, when the making or a breaking of the
An=O bond is required, for example, oxidizing the tetravalent
to the pentavalent, the electrochemistry tends to be slow and
irreversible.
The structure and bonding within coordination complexes
of the light actinides will be discussed in the following
section. However, the general trend between the actinides and
the lanthanides is a larger degree of covalency in An – L bonds
versus Ln – L bonds. In aqueous solutions, the predominant
bonding interaction with ligands is ionic in character, and,
therefore, the number and geometry of the ligands is mainly
determined by pure steric and electrostatic considerations. For
example, a wide range of coordination numbers (6 – 14) has
been found for the actinide ions.

4 STRUCTURE AND BONDING WITH f ORBITALS
As was noted in the previous section, the structure and
bonding of the actinides is partly driven by the nature of
the 5f orbitals. For the lanthanides, the 4f orbitals are deeply
buried and do not penetrate the core. Being almost completely
screened by the 5s- and 5p-electrons, 4f orbitals have little to
no chemical significance. This is one of the reasons that the
trivalent state of the lanthanides are the most stable, formed
through the ionization of the two 5s- and one 5p-electrons.
Conversely, the 5f orbitals have a greater spatial expansion and
also penetrate the core. Owing to the relatively small energy
differences between the 5f, 6d, 7s, and 7p orbitals, multiple
oxidation states can be obtained and covalent bonding can be
engaged.
4.1 Electronic Configuration
The electronic configurations of the gas-phase actinide
ions are given in Table 3. In order to determine these
configurations, electronic spectra are taken. These spectra tend
to be very complicated and, thus, make absolute determination
of the configuration difficult. As a result, a number of
configurations have question marks appended, indicating that
either disagreement or doubt in the assignment exists. Despite
these controversies, a general trend in the sequential filling of
the f orbitals does exist.
4.2 Coordination Numbers and Stereochemistry
The coordination chemistry of the actinides in aqueous
environments can be segregated along two lines, low valency
(di-, tri- and tetravalent) and high valency (penta- and
hexavalent). For actinide ions with a low valency, the
coordination chemistry is dominated by ionic bonding. As
a result, the coordination number and geometry of these
aqueous complexes is dictated by the steric bulk and electronic

8

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

Table 3 Valence level electronic configuration of the actinides in the gas phase
Actinide

Ac

Th

Pa

U

Np

Pu

Am

Cm

Bk

Cf

Es

Fm

Z
M (g)
M+ (g)
M2+ (g)
M3+ (g)
M4+ (g)

89
6d 7s2
7s2
7s

90
6d2 7s2
6d 7s2
5f 6d
5f

91
5f 2 6d 7s2
5f 2 7s2
5f 2 6d
5f 2
5f

92
5f 3 6d 7s2
5f 3 7s2
5f 3 6d ?
5f 3
5f 2

93
5f 4 6d 7s2
5f 5 7s ?
5f 5
5f 4
5f 3

94
5f 6 7s2
5f 6 7s
5f 6
5f 5
5f 4

95
5f 7 7s2
5f 7 7s
5f 7
5f 6
5f 5

96
5f 7 6d 7s2
5f 7 7s2
5f 8
5f 7
5f 6

97
5f 9 7s2
5f 9 7s
5f 9
5f 8
5f 7

98
5f10 7s2
5f10 7s
5f10
5f 9
5f 8

99
5f11 7s2
5f11 7s2
5f11
5f10
5f 9

100
5f12 7s2
5f12 7s
5f12
5f11
5f10

repulsion of the ligands. The actinide ions are relatively large
with the ionic radii for the An3+ and An4+ ions being 1.12 to
0.95 Å and 0.94 to 0.82 Å, respectively. As a result of their size,
the actinides are found to have large coordination numbers, 6
to 14. Some examples of the typical coordination geometries
for the tri- and tetravalent actinide ions are shown in
structures (5–10). Structure (5–8) are the potential geometries
for the aquo ions, An(H2 O)8/9 3+/4+ . Structures (5–7) are eightcoordinate with a cubic, square antiprism, and a bicapped
trigonal prism arrangement of the ligands, respectively. The
coordination number in Structure (8) is nine with a tricapped
trigonal prismatic geometry. The higher coordination numbers
are observed with multidentate ligands, for example, CO3 2−
and NO3 − . Structure (9) represents the An(CO3 )5 6− anion that
has a coordination number of 10, resulting from five bidentate
carbonate ligands in an irregular geometry. The structure
can almost be compared with the high-valent linear dioxo
compounds with two trans carbonate ligands occupying the
axial sites and three nearly planar carbonate ligands occupying
a pseudo-equatorial plane. The An(NO3 )6 2− anion is extremely

H2O OH2
H2O
OH2
An
H2O
OH2
H2O OH2

3+/4+

H2O OH2
H2O
OH2
An
H2O
OH2
H2O OH2

(5)

H2O OH
2
H2O
OH2
H2O An
OH2
H2O
H2O OH2

3+/4+

H2O OH2
(7)
O
O OO
O
O
O An O
O
O O
OO

3+/4+

2−

O

O

O
O
O

O O
O O
An
O O
O O

O

O

(9)

(10)

B
HHH
H
Me
H
H U H B
B
Me
H
H
HH H
B
(11)

(8)
6−

Me
SiMe3 Me3Si
SiMe3
SiMe3
N
N
N
N
N
N
U
U
N
N
N
N
SiMe3

Me3Si

Me

(6)

H2O OH2
H2O
OH2
An
H2O
OH2

O

3+/4+

important in the purification and processing of actinides, for
example plutonium. Structure (10) represents the coordination
geometry for this anion, which has six bidentate nitrate ligands,
giving the ion a coordination number of 12. The symmetry
for Structure (10) is Th with three sets of trans nitrato groups,
each making a plane in the Cartesian coordinate system.
The nonaqueous chemistry of the tri- and tetravalent ions
follows similar trends as the aqueous complexes. Coordination
numbers are dictated by the steric bulk and electronic
properties of the ligands; two structures, U(MeBH3 )4 (11)
and [{U(N(CH2 CH2 NSiMe3 )3 )}2 (µ2 -η2 : η2 -N2 )] (12), are
shown. Direct comparisons of the latter species can be made
to the behavior of transition metals in both coordination and
reactivity.

O
O
O

O

(12)

For the high-valent aqueous actinide species, the predominant linear dioxo unit, AnO2 +/2+ , drives all of the coordination
variability into the equatorial plane. It is interesting to note
that the bonding for these ions have significant covalency
with the axial An – O ligands. However, for the majority of
the ligands residing in the equatorial plane (‘belly-band’),
the bonding is primarily ionic. This shows the dual behavior
(strong covalency and ionicity) of the trans dioxo ions. As a
result of this behavior, the linear dioxo unit is unperturbed
(with the exception of bond distance changes) throughout all
of the aqueous-based complexes and the coordination numbers are dictated by the equatorial ligands’ size and electronic
properties. The structures of a variety of aqueous-based coordination complexes have been observed. Compounds with a D4h
symmetry are represented by the complexes, AnO2 Cl4 2− (13)
and NpO4 (OH)2 3− (14). Seven-coordinate structures are also
prevalent in actinide chemistry and are the highest coordination numbers achievable with all monodentate ligands. The

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

aquo ion (15) and pentafluoro (16) complex for the hexavalent actinides are represented below. Coordination complexes
under aqueous conditions with eight atoms bound to the
actinide are achievable.
2−

O
Cl

An

Cl

Cl
Cl

O

O
(13)

H2O O
OH2
H2O An
OH2
H2O O
(15)

3−

O
HO

Np

O
OH

O
(14)
2+

F
F

3+

O
An

F O
(16)

F
F

4.3 Ionic Radii and the Actinide Contraction – A Partial
Relativistic Effect
The ionic radii of the actinides is shown graphically in
Figure 2. The ionic radii for a given oxidation state gradually
decreases with increasing atomic number. This phenomenon
is known as the actinide contraction. Similar to the lanthanide
contraction, the cause of the contraction is an increase in
the effective nuclear charge experienced by the valence shell
electrons. The increase in the effective nuclear charge is
a result of the additional protons and the poor shielding
ability of the f-electrons due to their diffuse angular radial
function. Relativistic effects also contribute to the lanthanide
and actinide contractions. With heavy atoms, the core electrons
approach speeds that are close to the speed of light. When
these fast rates are obtained, the mass of the electron increases
as described by the special theory of relativity. The mass of
1.10
An3+

1.05

Ionic radii (Å)

1.00
0.95

An4+

0.90
0.85
0.80

An5+

0.75

An6+

0.70
Th

Pa

U

Np

Figure 2 Ionic radii of actinide ions

Pu

Am

Cm

Bk

Cf

9

the electron has an inverse relationship with the Bohr radius,
meaning as the mass increases the electron radius decreases.
There are two different relativistic effects, direct and indirect.
In general, direct relativistic effects are found for the s and p
orbitals, which contract owing to an increase in the mass of
these electrons. Indirect relativistic effects are predominantly
found for the d and f orbitals, which generally have increased
radii resulting from the enhanced shielding of the nuclear
charge by the contracted s- and p-electrons. Understanding
the difference between direct and indirect relativistic effects
is actually a function of analyzing the angular wavefunctions
of the s, p, d, and f orbitals. The s- and p-electrons have a
greater probability of being found at the nucleus (minimal
angular nodality) and, thus, greater probability of approaching
the speed of light. The diffuse nature of the d and f orbitals
reduces the lifetime of the electrons close to the nucleus and,
therefore, the probability of being accelerated. Relativistic
effects increase as a function of the atomic number, Zn (n > 1),
and, therefore, actinides have greater relativistic effects
compared to the lanthanides. The effect can be recognized
easily by looking at the calculated radial distribution functions
of Sm3+ and Pu3+ with and without relativistic effects. In
both ions, the s and p orbitals contract and the d and f orbitals
expand; however, the magnitude of the effect is clearly greater
in the case of the Pu3+ ion.
4.4 Molecular Orbital Descriptions – The Linear Dioxo
Diagram
Actinide complexes rarely follow the conventional rules,
for example, 18-electron rule, typically found in inorganic
and coordination chemistry of the transition metals. A prime
example of the difference in actinide chemistry is the
pervasiveness of the linear dioxo unit, which is unmatched in
transition metal chemistry. For the actinides, the trans dioxo
structure is maintained through different metal ions, oxidation
states, and valence electron counts, for example, UO2 2+/+
(f 0 /f1 ), NpO2 2+/+ (f1 /f 2 ), PuO2 2+/+ (f 2 /f 3 ) and AmO2 2+/+
(f 3 /f 4 ). In transition metal dioxo complexes, MO2 Lx , the oxo
ligand geometry (cis or trans) is almost entirely dependent
on the electron count. For ReO2 (CH3 )3 (d0 system) (17), the
oxo ligands are cis in order to maximize the π -bonding,
while the oxo ligands in ReO2 (py)4 (d2 system) (18) are found
in a trans geometry to minimize electronic repulsions with
the unpaired metal-based electrons residing in the equatorial
dx2 -y2 orbital.
As a result of this disparity, many questions on the
structure and bonding of the actinides center on the role
of the 5f-electrons. The molecular orbital descriptions for the
bonding of the actinide elements continue to evolve. One
of the first general models used to describe the chemical
bonding in d- and f-electron complexes is the ‘FEUDAL’
model. FEUDAL is an acronym for ‘f orbitals essentially
unaffected d orbitals accommodate ligands’. This model is
represented in Figure 3, which depicts the molecular orbital

10

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY
L6n−

ML6

Mn+

AnL6

Ann+

On
t1u

7p

a1g

7s

eg
∆0 − d

t1u

6p

eg
t2g
a1g

6s

∆0 − d
t2g

5d

6d
t2g + eg
5f
a2u + t1u + t2u

t2g + eg
Lpσ
a1g + eg + t1u
M−Lσ
a1g + eg + t1u

a1g + eg + t1u

Figure 3 Bonding in actinide complexes

O
H3C
H 3C

Re

O
d0

CH3
(17)
+

O
py
py

Re

py
py

O
(18)

d2

diagram for a transition metal ion (left) and an actinide ion
(right) binding to six monodentate ligands in an octahedral
geometry.
The transition metal diagram shows the valence shell 5d,
6s, and 6p orbitals being raised in energy due to interactions
with the ligand’s p-based σ -orbitals. The typical splitting
of the d orbitals occurs and the electrons fill these orbitals
on the basis of the transition metal being investigated. For
the actinide, there is a greater energy mismatch between the
ligand’s orbitals and the 7s, 7p, and 6d orbitals. This energy
difference weakens the covalent bonding. The 5f orbitals
are also at energy levels that are below the 6d orbitals and
therefore act as a reservoir of the metal-based electrons. As can
be seen, the f-electrons have orbitals of the correct symmetry
to interact, t1u ; however, their spatial expansion is believed to
be insufficient to overlap with the ligand’s orbitals. This lack
of overlap is the reasoning for essentially leaving the f orbitals
unaffected.

In general, the FEUDAL model appears to answer many
of the fundamental questions regarding the bonding within felectron systems; however, certain discrepancies exist within
the physical data of the actinide systems and the theoretical
understanding of the radial distribution functions of the
actinides. Evidence that the f orbitals are accessible for
covalent bonding continues to be found.
A number of important observations can be made from
the calculated radial distribution functions of the f elements,
including: the 4f orbital are considerably buried within the
core; the 5f orbitals have a great enough spatial extension
such that ligands that approach close enough to the metal
center (<2 Å) can engage these orbitals for bonding; and
the 7s and 7p orbitals are really too diffuse to be useful for
chemical bonding.
On the basis of these observations and new quantum
calculations3 using density functional theory, a more accurate
molecular orbital diagram for the linear dioxo actinide system
has emerged (Figure 4). In this diagram, mixing of the actinide
5fz3 orbital with the filled 6pz occurs, which allows for a
more significant overlap with the oxygen 2p σ -orbitals. For
oxo ligands, the f orbitals can also engage in π -bonding as
evidenced by the raising of the πu 5f orbitals.

5 ELECTROCHEMICAL PROPERTIES
The ability of the light actinides to access multiple oxidation
states leads to rich, and, sometimes, complex electrochemistry.
The standard reduction potentials at pH = 0 for each of the

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

U6+

UO22+

O24−

σg
πg
δg
6d
σu
πu
φu
δu

5f

U–Oσ

U–Oπ

physical manifestation of having similar reduction potentials
is an aqueous solution in which the plutonium can exist in four
different oxidation states simultaneously (PuO2 2+ , PuO2 + ,
Pu4+ and Pu3+ ). Equations (1) and (2) dictate the equilibrium
of these species. The equilibrium constants for these equations
are dependent on the ionic strength and equation (2) has a
fourth order dependence on the [H+ ], making the equilibria
quite complicated. For a one molal solution (HClO4 ), the
equilibrium constants are 12.7 and 6.46 × 10−4 , respectively.
With these constants, the speciation of an aqueous Pu solution
at pH = 1 can be calculated at ∼60% PuIII , ∼20% PuVI , and
∼10% each of PuIV and PuV .
−
−−
−−
−− Pu3+ + PuO2 2+
Pu4+ + 2H2 O −
−−
−−
−− Pu3+ + PuO2 + + 4H+

Pu4+ + PuO2 +

σu
σg

11

O 2p

(1)
(2)

The reduction potentials are also dependent on the pH of
the solution. Dramatic changes in the redox potentials of Np
and Pu have been observed on progressing from acid (1 M)
to base (1 – 10 M). For example, the reduction potential for
NpVII /NpO2 2+ is reduced by nearly 2 V! Scheme 3 shows the
reduction potentials for Np and Pu at either 1 or 10 M NaOH
solutions. As can be seen, the potentials are such that the

πg
πu
πu

6p
σu

Figure 4 Bonding in uranyl complexes

1 M NaOH
NpVII

actinides are given in Table 4. The stability of the oxidation
states shown in Figure 1 are supported by these data and some
interesting properties of the actinides can be derived. For
example, UIII is able to reduce H2 O, while UIV and NpIV can
be stabilized in anaerobic aqueous solutions. Another example
is the unique electrochemical properties of plutonium. The
reduction potentials for the four common oxidation states of
plutonium under acidic conditions are all close to 1 V. The

PuVII

+0.59 V

NpO22+

+0.26 V

PuO22+

+0.14 V
+0.76 V

−0.95 V

NpO2+
PuO2+

−0.95 V

Np4+
Pu4+

10 M NaOH
NpVII

+0.25 V

NpO22+

+0.05 V

NpO2+

−1.0 V

Np4+

Scheme 3

Table 4 Standard electrode potentials of the actinides in aqueous solutions at pH = 0
Redox couple
An2+ /An0
An3+ /An2+
An3+ /An0
An4+ /An0
An4+ /An3+
AnO2 /An0
AnO2 + /An4+
AnO2 + /An3+
AnO2 2+ /AnO2 +
AnO2 2+ /An4+
Redox couple
AnVII /AnO2 2+
An2+ /An0
An3+ /An2+
An3+ /An0
An4+ /An3+

Ac
−0.7
−4.9
−2.13

Th

Pa

U

Np

Pu

Am

Cm

+0.7
−4.9

+0.3
−5.0
−1.47
−1.4

−0.1
−4.7
−1.66
−1.38
−0.52

−0.3
−4.7
−1.79
−1.30
+0.15

−1.2
−3.5
−2.00
−1.25
+1.01

−1.95
−2.3
−2.07
−0.90
+2.62

−1.2
−3.7
−2.06

−1.83
−3.8
−2.56

−0.05

+0.38

+0.67

+1.04

+1.24
+0.94
Md
+2.04
−2.5
−0.15
−1.74

+0.94
+0.99
No

+0.82
+1.72
+1.60
+1.21
Lr

−2.6
+1.45
1.26

−2.1

Bk

Cf

Es

+0.17
+0.27
Fm

−1.54
−2.8
−1.96
+1.67

−1.976
−1.6
−1.91
+3.2

−2.2
−1.55
−1.98
+4.5

−2.5
−1.15
−2.07
+5.2

+3.1

12

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

higher oxidation states can be stabilized in aqueous solutions,
including the heptavalent ions of Np, Pu, and possibly Am.
It should be noted that this phenomenon follows the expected
trend based on an increase in the electron density on the metal
center with changing the speciation from AnO2 (H2 O)x 2+ in
acidic conditions to AnO2 (OH)4/5 2−/3− in highly alkaline
solutions.
The equilibria and variety of species discussed above would
seem to make studying the specific oxidation states of actinides
difficult. However, through careful control of the conditions,
oxidation state pure solutions for all of the actinides can be
obtained for synthetic, quantitative and/or qualitative studies.

6 CHARACTERIZATION OF ACTINIDE
COMPLEXES
The radioactive nature of the actinides, especially the
transuranics, can introduce significant challenges in the
characterization of their complexes. In order to prevent
contamination, multiple layers of containment are often
required, which can limit the types of studies that can be
undertaken. However, a suite of spectroscopic tools has
been used to study the chemistry and speciation of the
actinides. A partial list of these techniques includes absorption,
emission and vibrational spectroscopies, X-ray absorption and
diffraction, and multinuclear magnetic resonance.
The absorption spectroscopy in the UV-Vis-NIR is
especially rich for the actinides, allowing for fairly simple
determinations of the metal oxidation state. The primary
absorption bands result from f
f transitions, f
d and
ligand-to-metal charge transfers. The f
f transitions are
typically weak since they are forbidden under the LaPorte
selection rules. Distortions in symmetry allow for relaxation
in these rules and bands in the visible to near-infrared
range result. Complexes that contain an inversion symmetry,
for example PuO2 Cl4 2− , have weaker f
f transitions
(ε < 20 M−1 cm−1 ). The direct interactions of the 5f orbitals
with the ligand set generally make the absorption bands
broader than the absorption spectra of comparable lanthanide
species. The charge transfer bands in actinide complexes can
be intense and lead to the variety of colors observed for the
actinides with varying oxidation states or ligands. Vibronic
coupling also plays a significant role in the absorption spectra
of actinide complexes. The prime example of this vibronic
coupling is observed in the visible spectra of UO2 2+ species.
In these complexes, the ν1 stretching mode (∼800 – 900 cm−1 )
resulting from an excited state of the linear dioxo unit couples
with the absorption manifold to give the appearance of multiple
peaks with approximately the same energetic separation.
Absorption techniques have been used extensively in studying
the aqueous chemistry of the actinides, especially when linked
with potentiometric titrations.

The emission spectroscopy is also used to study the
speciation of the actinides. Compounds with isotopes of
uranium, americium, and curium fluoresce in the visible range,
making detection relatively easy. Neptunium and plutonium
fluoresce in the near-infrared region, and recent developments
in detectors may allow for more facile measurements. The
power of emission spectroscopy is the ability to run at variable
temperatures and low concentrations in both solution and
solid phases. The luminescence from the actinide complexes
is strongly dependent on both energy and lifetime of the
speciation products. In a similar fashion as the absorption
spectra of UO2 2+ , vibronic coupling occurs. The primary
difference between the two is that in the emission spectra the
ground-state vibrations of the AnO2 2+ are probed.
The ubiquitous linear dioxo unit gives an excellent handle to
use vibrational spectroscopy in studying the speciation of highvalent aqueous complexes of the actinides. Both IR and Raman
spectroscopy have been utilized. For IR, the observation of
the stretching frequencies of the dioxo unit are complicated by
the relatively small window available for water. Attenuated
total reflectance cells have significantly aided the examination
of aqueous actinyl complexes by providing the requisite
background subtraction. Raman spectroscopy does not have
the same issues when measuring actinide complexes in water.
For actinyl complexes, the ν1 stretch is dependent on ligands in
the equatorial plane. In general, the ν1 stretch of the O=An=O
weakens with the addition of better σ - or π -donor ligands.
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques have been
increasingly used for studying the actinides. Th(IV), U(VI),
and Np(VII) complexes are diamagnetic, and a range of
multinuclear methods can be used, including 13 C, 1 H, 19 F,
and so on. Most complexes with the other actinides and other
oxidation states of uranium and neptunium are paramagnetic.
The paramagnetism causes a shift and broadening of the NMR
signals similar to transition metal species. One of the nuclei
that has relatively narrow lines for paramagnetic complexes is
the quadropolar 17 O. The oxo groups of the actinyl ions can
be labeled with 17 O by reducing the metals to the tetravalent
state and reoxidizing to the penta- or hexavalent state in an
17
O-enriched aqueous solution. Unlike the transition metals,
the actinide complexes that have the narrowest line-widths are
those with either an f 0 or odd f-electron configuration. For
example, NpVII (f 0 ) and NpO2 2+ (f1 ) have visible 17 O-NMR
peaks, whereas the peaks for NpO2 + (f 2 ) are so broad that
they cannot be observed.
Another technique that has been increasingly used for
determining actinide speciation is X-ray absorption. These
measurements are typically made at synchrotron radiation
laboratories where extremely high energy X-rays (15 – 25 keV)
with high fluxes can be generated and used to interrogate a
sample. The techniques are element specific, which allows
for the ability to probe heterogeneous samples, for example
environmental substances. The X-ray absorption near edge
spectrum (XANES) is able to give information on the oxidation
state of the actinide. For example, a linear relationship between

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

the edge energy and oxidation state of plutonium has been
reported. The structure near the absorption edge can also shed
light on the structure of the actinide, for example, presence of
an actinyl unit. The variability in the ligands can also cause
a shift in the edge position; however, this is typically a much
smaller effect than the oxidation state. The X-ray absorption
fine structure (XAFS) that results after the primary absorption
can be used to give structural information. This technique
essentially gives the ability to obtain data from any solid or
solution similar to that gained from a single-crystal X-ray
diffraction study. The primary difference is that no angular
information can be determined from XAFS, but the type,
number, and bond distances of atoms bound to a metal can be.

7 AQUEOUS COORDINATION COMPLEXES
The most basic coordination complex in aqueous solutions
is the aquo ion. For most metals in the periodic table that
form ions in aqueous solutions, the coordination number and
geometry of the aquo ion is well known. For a majority
of the actinides, controversies still exist as to the exact
number of H2 O molecules that are bound to the metal
centers. The uncertainty in the structures is linked to the
limited number of crystal structures that exist for actinide
aquo complexes. This lack of data is related to the difficulty
in crystallizing materials from aqueous solutions. The most
well studied aquo ion of the actinides is UO2 (H2 O)5 2+ . This
ion has been crystallized from noncoordinating perchloric
acid solutions through either concentration or addition of
18-crown-6. For the latter case, the crown ether interacts
with the H2 O molecules bound to the uranium through
hydrogen bonds. These same crystallization techniques have
been attempted to obtain crystal structures of the hexavalent
Np, Pu, and Am ions; however, X-ray quality single crystals
of the aquo ions have not been obtained, sometimes due to
oxidation state changes or inner-sphere complexation by the
crown ether. From EXAFS, structural data on the aquo ions
have been obtained for the hexavalent ions, AnO2 (H2 O)5 2+
(An = U – Am). For calibration purposes, the bond distance
for the oxo ligands of the UO2 2+ species obtained from XAFS
and single-crystal analyses show a nearly identical length.
The bond An = O distance was found to be 1.76, 1.75, 1.74,
and 1.80 Å for An = U, Np, Pu, and Am, respectively. The
An – OH2 distance for the same complexes was found to be
2.42, 2.42, 2.41, and 2.40, respectively.
For those actinides stable in the pentavalent state, ions of
the form AnO2 (H2 O)x + (An = Np, Pu; x = 4, 5, 6) have been
postulated. PaV is not included in this list since it readily
hydrolyzes in aqueous solutions to form Pa2 O5 ·xH2 O. All of
the structural data for these complexes come from XAFS. The
bond distances for both An=O (1.83 Å for both Np and Pu)
and An – OH2 (2.51 and 2.5 Å, respectively) expand in the

13

pentavalent ions in line with an increase in the ionic radii with
the change in oxidation state.
Tetravalent ions of the actinides can be stabilized in
aqueous solutions for Th to Am. Owing to the more intense
radiation fields generated by Am, maintaining oxidation state
pure samples is difficult (α radiolysis spontaneously promotes
the reduction of AmIV to AmIII ). For those ions that have
been studied, complexes of the form An(H2 O)x 4+ (An = Th,
U, Np, Pu; x = 9 – 12) have been proposed. The most widely
accepted values for the number of H2 O molecules bound to
the metal center are 10 for Th and 9 for U to Pu. The An – OH2
distances in these ions range from 2.50 to 2.46 Å.
The trivalent plutonium aquo ion, [Pu(H2 O)9 ]3+ , has been
crystallized with nine H2 O ligands in a tricapped trigonal
prismatic geometry.4
Salts of oxo anions, such as nitrate, sulfate, perchlorate,
iodate, hydroxide, carbonate, phosphate, oxalate, and so
on, are important for the separation and reprocessing
of technologically important actinides, while hydroxide,
carbonate, and phosphate ions are important for the chemical
behavior of the actinides in the environment. The general
trends of complexes formed in aqueous solutions are as
follows:
• for AnO2 n+ (n = 1, 2) complexes: as H2 O is replaced as
a ligand by better σ -, π -, or ionic donors, for example,
OH− , F− , Cl− , CO3 2− , the An=O distance increases and
the ν1 decreases;
• on transitioning between AnO2 + to An4+ : the lack of the
linear dioxo unit in the lower valent complexes results in
a slight decrease in the An – L bond distance;
• the determination of end members for a specific ligand in
an aqueous-based actinide system will be the easiest to
determine because of the ubiquitous presence of multiple
equilibria, for example, UO2 Cl2 (H2 O)2 , UO2 Cl3 (H2 O)− ,
and UO2 Cl4 2− for the uranyl chloride system.
7.1 Nitrates
Hexavalent. Nitrate complexation with actinide ions
is very weak, and the determination of the formation
constants for aqueous nitrate solution species is extremely
difficult. Under aqueous conditions with high nitric acid
concentrations, complexes of the form AnO2 (NO3 )(H2 O)x + ,
AnO2 (NO3 )2 (H2 O)2 , and AnO2 (NO3 )3 − (An = U, Np, Pu)
are likely to be present. Solids of the anionic trisnitrato
complex have been isolated for U and Np5,6 however,
minimal structural data have been obtained. Solid uranyl
nitrate, UO2 (NO3 )2 ·xH2 O, is obtained as the orthorhombic
hexahydrate from dilute nitric acid solutions and as the
trihydrate from concentrated acid. The Np analog can
be precipitated from a mixed aqueous HNO3 and MeCN
solution by the addition of 18-crown-6. Multiple structural
determinations have been made for the hexavalent uranium
nitrate complexes, and all show the common formula unit of

14

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

UO2 (NO3 )2 (OH2 )2 (19) with a local hexagonal bipyramidal
coordination about the central uranyl ion. The average An=O
bond distances for the actinyl dinitrate complex were found
to be 1.76 and 1.74 Å for U and Np, respectively, while the
An – OH2 distances (2.44 Å) and An – Onitrate (2.49 Å) distances
were identical for the two actinides. The actinyl dinitrato
complex is also known to bind other neutral donors to form
compounds of the form AnO2 (NO3 )2 L2 (L = TBP, MeCN,
DMF, MeCO2 Et, etc.). As with all of the other neutral adducts,
the technologically important AnO2 (NO3 )2 (TBP)2 (An = U,
Np, Pu) (20) complex displays trans nitrate ligands with the
TBP ligands occupying the same coordination sides as H2 O
in (19).
BunO

O

O
O
H2O
O N
U
O
O
OH2
N O
O
(19)

BunO

O
O N O
O
BunO
O U O
OBun
O
N O
P
O
O
OBun
OBun
(20)
P

Pentavalent. The complexation of the Pa and Np
pentavalent ions by nitrate is known; however, limited
thermodynamic and structural data are known. For Pa,
mixed hydroxo/nitrato or oxo/nitrato complexes have been
proposed. The presumed structure for the NpV species is
NpO2 (NO3 )(H2 O)x .
Tetravalent. Nitrate complexes for tetravalent actinides,
for example, Th and Pu, are extremely important in
actinide separation and purification processes. The limiting
species in the nitrate series is the hexanitrato complex,
An(NO3 )6 2− .7 There is reasonable evidence for the formation
of aqueous U(IV) nitrate complexes of the general formula
U(NO3 )n 4−n , where n = 1 to 4. However, owing to the
inherent weakness of the complexes, quantitative data on
the formation constants is only available for U(NO3 )3+ and
U(NO3 )2 2+ . No neutral U(IV) nitrates have been obtained
from aqueous solutions, but a number of anionic complexes of
general formula M2 [U(NO3 )6 ], where M = NH4 , Rb, Cs, and
M[U(NO3 )6 ]·8H2 O, where M = Mg, Zn, have been isolated
and characterized. These solids contain the 12-coordinate
anionic U(IV) center. Neutral, U(IV) nitrate complexes of
formula U(NO3 )4 L2 (L = OP(C6 H5 )3 , OP(NC4 H8 )3 ) have
also been isolated from aqueous solutions and structurally
characterized.
7.2 Sulfates
Hexavalent. The aqueous actinyl sulfate systems have
been widely studied for uranium and complexes of formula
AnO2 (SO4 )n 2−2n , where n = 0, 1, and 2, are likely to
be formed in solution. For the transuranics, the neutral

compounds AnO2 (SO4 )·2.5H2 O (An = Np, Pu) have been
isolated and characterized by the X-ray analysis, which
confirmed comparable structures with the U analog. A
number of ternary An(VI) sulfates of the general formula
(M)k (AnO2 )m (SO4 )n ·xH2 O, where M = monovalent cation,
that is, NH4 or alkali metals, M(AnO2 )m (SO4 )n ·xH2 O, where
M = bivalent cation, such as alkaline-earth or transition
metals (Mn, Cd, Hg), have been reported. In one of the
more simplistic systems, K4 UO2 (SO4 )3 , each uranium has
a pentagonal bipyramidal geometry with five-coordinated
oxygen atoms from four sulfate groups in the equatorial
plane. The crystal structure for Cs2 NpO2 (SO4 )2 is composed
of anionic layers of [NpO2 (SO4 )2 ]n 2n− with bridging sulfate
groups.
In addition to traditional aqueous chemistry to produce
actinide sulfate phases, hydrothermal synthetic methods have
been utilized. The novel phases, [N2 C5 H14 ]2 [UO2 (SO4 )3 ],
[N2 C5 H14 ][UO2 (H2 O)(SO4 )2 ], [N2 C4 H14 ][UO2 (SO4 )2 ], and
[N2 C4 H14 ][(UO2 )2 (H2 O)(SO4 )3 ]·H2 O have been synthesized
by high-temperature organic-templated reactions.
Pentavalent. Protactinium is known to bind sulfate in
solutions of H2 SO4 ; however, very limited data are available
on the molecular species. Sulfate complexes with the general
formula of NpO2 (SO4 )n 1−2n (n = 1 – 3) have been reported. In
most of these complexes, the Np is found in a seven-coordinate
pentagonal bipyramid geometry.
Tetravalent. The AnIV (An = Th, U, Np and Pu) sulfate
system has also been studied in strongly acidic solutions.
An(SO4 )2 ·xH2 O (x = 4, 6, 8, 9) can be precipitated from weak
and concentrated sulfuric acid solutions. For An(SO4 )2 ·4H2 O
(An = Th, U, Np, Pu), the actinide atoms are surrounded
by a square antiprism of O atoms, with each An bonded to
four molecules of water and linked by bidentate bridging
sulfate groups to other metal atoms. In these compounds,
the bond distances observed for the An – Ophosphate are
significantly shorter than the An – OH2 , for example, 2.308 Å
and 2.361 Å, respectively for the Np compound. Ternary
An(IV) sulfates have also been described in the literature.
Many of the compounds have layered structures and/or unusual
coordination environments. The trisulfate of Np(IV) has been
isolated as a Cs salt, Cs2 Np(SO4 )3 ·2H2 O. In this compound,
the NpIV cation is coordinated to nine oxygen atoms in an
irregular geometry. The structure of K4 Pu(SO4 )4 ·2H2 O was
determined from powder diffraction and consists of dimeric
units of [(µ2 -SO4 )3 Pu(η2 -µ2 -SO4 )2 Pu(µ2 -SO4 )3 ]8− .8
Trivalent. The trivalent ions of the actinides have been
found to bind sulfate ions. The simple hydrated sulfate salt,
An2 (SO4 )3 ·xH2 O has been proposed for U, Np, Pu, Am,
and Cm. A crystal structure of Am2 (SO4 )3 ·8H2 O showed
significant cross-linking of the Am atoms through sulfate
ligands and an extensive hydrogen bonding network. The

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

coordinate sphere of the Am atoms is composed of eight
oxygen atoms, four from sulfate ions and four from H2 O
molecules. The Am – Osulfate distances ranged from 2.38 to
2.95 Å while the Am – OH2 distances varied from 2.41 to
2.55 Å. Ternary complexes of the trivalent actinides are also
known. For example, MPu(SO4 )2 ·xH2 O has been isolated
with a number of alkali metals and ammonium. The Pu in
these compounds is nine-coordinate and is analogous to the
lanthanide compounds of the same formula. It is interesting
to note that the UIII sulfates, U2 (SO4 )3 ·xH2 O (x = 2, 5, 8)
and M2 U2 (SO4 )4 are essentially the only available salts of
trivalent uranium.
7.3 Hydroxides
Hydrolysis dominates the aqueous chemistry of actinide
ions under conditions of high pH. The tendency for hydrolysis
follows the acidity of the actinide cations, that is An4+ >
AnO2 2+ > An3+ > AnO2 + . The AnO2 2+ would appear to be
an anomaly, since a 3+ cation would normally be predicted
to be more acidic than a 2+ cation. However, the effective
charge on the metal center is the key factor. The oxo groups
of the AnO2 2+ ion do not completely ‘quench’ the hexavalent
charge, and as a result, the residual effective charge on the
metal center is approximately +3.3.
The hydrolysis products of the actinides have a tendency
to undergo polymerization reactions, which can hamper the
structural investigations of the speciation. One of the most
observed plutonium species is the highly insoluble green
colloidal PuIV hydroxide. In general, high concentrations of an
actinide ion in near-neutral solution conditions (pH = 2 – 13)
will lead to polymeric materials, while solutions with low
actinide concentrations (10−5 – 10−6 M, depending on the
actual ion) favor monomeric complexes. Under highly alkaline
conditions, some of the hydroxides of the actinides become
amphoteric in nature, producing soluble monomeric and
polymeric anions.
Tetravalent. The hydrolysis of tetravalent actinide ions
can begin to occur in solutions with pH levels < 2. Under
dilute conditions, species of the form An(OH)n 4−n (n = 1 – 4)
are predicted; however, most hydrolysis studies have only
been able to identify the first hydrolysis product, An(OH)3+ .
It should be noted that in all of these compounds the
remainder of the coordination sphere is made up of bound H2 O
molecules. The end member of the speciation is the neutral
An(OH)4 or AnO2 ·2H2 O. This complex has low solubility
but has been postulated to exist in solutions from solubility
experiments when using the isolated solid as the starting
material. Under more concentrated conditions, polymeric
materials have been postulated. In modeling the hydrolysis
of thorium at concentrations greater than mM, polynuclear
species of the form Th2 (OH)2 6+ , Th2 (OH)4 4+ , Th4 (OH)8 8+ ,
Th6 (OH)14 10+ , and so on, have been included.

15

Hexavalent. As with most reactions, the hydrolysis of
UO2 2+ is the best studied of the hexavalent actinides. The
hydrolysis of UO2 2+ begins at pH ∼ 3, while the onset
for the hydrolysis of NpO2 2+ and PuO2 2+ each occur at
a higher pH. The monomeric hydrolysis products of the
uranyl ion, UO2 (OH)n 2−n (n = 1, 2) can be studied in
solutions with uranium concentrations less than 10−4 M. For
solutions with higher uranium concentrations, multinuclear
cationic species dominate the speciation, for example,
(UO2 )2 (OH)2 2+ , (UO2 )3 (OH)4 2+ , and (UO2 )3 (OH)5 + . These
cations have been crystallized from solutions with the
formulas (UO2 )2 (µ2 -OH)2 (OH2 )6 2+ and (UO2 )3 (µ3 -O)(µ2 OH)3 (OH2 )6 + (21). For Np and Pu, the dimer of the first
hydrolysis product, (AnO2 )2 (OH)2 2+ (22), has also been
identified but not fully structurally characterized.
+
O
O
H
H2O
OH
O
H2O U O
O U OH2
HO
OH
O U
O
OH2
H2O
O
(21)

H2O
H 2O

O
An

H2O O

H
O
O
H

O

2+

OH2
An OH2
O OH2

(22)

When alkali metal bases are used to raise the solution pH to
moderate levels, the uranium will precipitate from the solution
in the form of hydrous uranyl hydroxides or uranates, for example, Na2 U2 O7 . However, through judicious choice of a base,
for example, tetramethylammonium hydroxide, (TMA)OH,
or tetramethylammonium trifluoromethansulfonate, the study
of the amphoteric behavior of uranyl hydroxides can be
undertaken. Polynuclear anions of the form (UO2 )3 (OH)7 − ,
(UO2 )3 (OH)8 2− , and (UO2 )3 (OH)10 4− are examples of soluble
species in solutions where the pH < 14. When the concentration of the (TMA)OH is increased (>0.6 M OH− ), highly
soluble (∼0.1 M) monomers of the form UO2 (OH)n 2−n (n = 3,
4, 5) have been reported. These three species are in equilibrium
with each other; however, in solutions where the [OH− ] is
greater that 1 M, the pentahydroxo complex predominates the
speciation.
One of the common theories in actinide chemistry is
the analog theory, which implies that the chemistry of the
transuranics will mirror that of uranium. The behavior of
Np and Pu in highly alkaline solutions offers an excellent
example of the limitations of this theory. Unlike U, both
Np and Pu are highly soluble (∼0.1 M) in a variety of
bases, for example MOH (M = Li, Na, K; [OH− ] > 1 M).
Monomeric anions of the form, AnO2 (OH)x 2− (x = 4, 5)
have been identified to be in equilibrium with each other,
and, as for the uranium analog, the neptunyl tetrahydroxide
has been crystallographically characterized by addition of
[Co(NH3 )6 ]3+ to alkaline solutions. The bond lengths for the
AnO2 (OH)4 2− have been established by both single-crystal
X-ray diffraction studies and XAFS. The average An=O

16

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

distances for U, Np, and Pu are 1.82, 1.80, 1.77 Å, respectively,
while the average An – OH distances are 2.26, 2.24, and 2.29 Å
respectively.
Heptavalent. In highly alkaline solutions ([OH− ] =
0.5 – 18 M), the redox potentials for Np and Pu have shifted
to the point that the heptavalent state can be stabilized for a
limited time in aqueous solutions. The lifetime of the AnVII
species is dependent on the base concentration; however,
in general, NpVII is significantly more stable than PuVII ,
for example, weeks versus days, respectively. Over the past
few years, a significant interest has evolved in studying the
structure of the heptavalent actinide ions. Two forms of NpVII
have been crystallographically characterized, NpO4 (OH)2 3−
and NpO4 − . The latter anion was isolated as a salt with Na+
and K+ cations. The structure of KNpO4 is layered with the Np
atoms bound to two oxo-type ligands (Np=O 1.?? Å) in axial
positions and four bridging oxygen atoms (Np – O 2.?? Å) that
make up the plane of the layer. The former complex has four
shorter bonds (1.88 Å) corresponding to the four Np=O and
two longer bonds Np – OH (2.33 Å) (14). This planar teraoxo
arrangement is unique to heptavalent actinides having no
transition metal or f element analogs.
7.4 Carbonates
Actinide carbonate complexes are of interest not only
because of their fundamental chemistry and environmental
behavior but also because of extensive industrial applications,
primarily in uranium recovery from ores and nuclear fuel
reprocessing.
Trivalent. The trivalent actinides form simple carbonates
of the formula An2 (CO3 )3 . When these solids are dissolved
in aqueous solutions of alkali metal carbonates, anionic
complexes are formed, for example An(CO3 )n 3−2n (n = 2 – 4).
Tetravalent. The best-studied tetravalent actinide carbonato complex is An(CO3 )5 6− (An = Th, U, Pu). This anion has
been isolated using a variety of cations, including Na+ , K+ ,
Tl+ , [Co(NH3 )6 ]3+ and C(NH2 )3 + /NH4 + . In solution, the
pentacarbonato complex is the end member of the series
An(CO3 )n 4−2n (n = 1 – 5); however, in the mineral tuliokite,
Na6 BaTh(CO3 )6 ·6H2 O, thorium exists as a hexacarbonato
complex. The analysis of the thermodynamic data for these
actinide carbonate systems has led to differences of opinion
on the actual speciation. The data appear to support both
the stepwise addition of CO3 2− and subsequent loss of H2 O
molecules within the An4+ cation coordination sphere as well
as the formation of mixed hydroxo carbonato complexes, for
example Pu(CO3 )3 (OH)3− .

have been reported are AnO2 (CO3 )− , AnO2 (CO3 )2 3− , and
AnO2 (CO3 )3 5− . As with all of the actinyl complexes, the
carbonate ligands bind in the equatorial plane and in a
bidentate fashion. As a result, the likely coordination geometry
for the mono- and biscarbonato complexes in solution is a
pentagonal bipyramid, while the triscarbonato complex has
a hexagonal bipyramidal geometry. When crystallized, the
mono- and biscarbonato complexes condense, allowing the
carbonate ligands to bridge multiple actinide centers and
typically resulting in a hexagonal bipyramidal geometry.
Hexavalent. The aqueous An(VI) carbonate system has
been well studied. A multitude of An(VI) carbonate complexes
have been identified, including monomeric, multinuclear, and
mixed hydroxo carbonato complexes. The monomeric materials generally have the form AnO2 (CO3 )n 2−2n (n = 1 – 3).
The end member of the carbonate series, AnO2 (CO3 )3 4− (23),
has a hexagonal bipyramid geometry with the three bidentate carbonates occupying the equatorial plane. The monoand biscarbonato complexes are typically five coordinate,
with bidentate carbonate ligands and either three or one
H2 O molecule. Under conditions with high actinide metal
concentrations, multinuclear species can predominate, for
example (AnO2 )3 (CO3 )6 6− (24). The U(VI) is the best studied of the hexavalent actinide carbonate complexes. The
known uranium(VI) carbonate solids have empirical formulas
UO2 (CO3 ), M2 UO2 (CO3 )2 , and M4 UO2 (CO3 )3 (M = Na+ ,
K+ , Rb+ , Cs+ , NH4 + , etc.). The monocarbonato compound,
UO2 (CO3 ), is a mineral known as rutherfordine, and its structure has been determined from crystals of both the natural
mineral and synthetic samples. Rutherfordine is a layered
solid in which the local coordination environment of the
uranyl ion consists of a hexagonal bipyramidal arrangement
of oxygen atoms. Each uranium atom forms six equatorial
bonds with the oxygen atoms of four carbonate ligands, two
in a bidentate manner and two in a monodentate manner. The
biscarbonato complex has been shown to form a trimeric anion
of the form (UO2 )3 (CO3 )6 6− (7). This molecule possesses a
D3h planar structure in which all six carbonate ligands and
the three uranium atoms lie within the molecular plane. The
six uranyl oxygen atoms are perpendicular to the plane, with
three above, and three below the plane. The local coordination
geometry about each uranium is hexagonal bipyramidal.

O

O

O O
O
O
O An O
O
O
O

4−

O O O

O O O
O

U

O

O O O O O O O
O

O

U
O O O

Pentavalent. The binding of carbonate to pentavalent
actinide ions has been studied for most of the light
actinides (An = U, Np, Pu, Am). The primary species that

(23)

U

O
(24)

O

O

O

6−

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

7.5 Phosphates
Inorganic phosphate ligands are important with respect
to the behavior of actinides in the environment and as
potential waste forms. There have been a number of
experimental studies to determine the equilibrium constants
in the actinide – phosphoric acid system, but they have been
complicated by the formation of relatively insoluble solid
phases and the formation of ternary actinide complexes in
solution.
The chemistry of the phosphate system is complicated by
the number of different ligands that are possible. In acidic
solution (hydrogen-ion concentration range 0.25 – 2.00 M),
H3 PO4 and H2 PO4 − are potential ligands, whereas in
neutral to basic solution, HPO4 2− and PO4 3− ligands are
predominant. The phosphate salts are slightly soluble in water
and dilute mineral acids. The synthetic methods to obtain
solid phases of actinide phosphates include precipitation and
high-temperature methods.
The trivalent actinides form simple insoluble phosphate salts of the form, AnPO4 ·xH2 O. Tetravalent actinides
form a number of different phases including metaphosphates An(PO3 )4 , the pyrophosphate An(P2 O7 ), double
phosphates MAn2 (PO4 )3 and M2 An(PO4 )2 , and orthophosphates, An(HPO4 )2 ·xH2 O. Phosphates of the hexavalent
actinyl ions also form complex complexes and solid phases.
The predominate compounds include AnO2 (HPO4 )·xH2 O,
orthophosphates M(AnO2 )n (PO4 )m ·xH2 O, hydrogenphosphates M(AnO2 )n (Hk PO4 )m ·xH2 O, pyrophosphates Anm On P2 O7 , metaphosphates (AnO2 )n (PO3 )m ·xH2 O, and polyphosphates (AnO2 )n (Pa Ob )m ·xH2 O.
7.6 Halides
The best-studied aqueous actinide halide systems are the
fluorides and the chlorides. Fluoride and chloride ions are
added to the actinyl centers in a stepwise fashion (Scheme 4).
The end member in the actinyl fluoride system is the
pentafluoride, AnO2 F5 3− . For the uranyl analog, the U = O
and U – F bond distances were found to be 1.79 and 2.18 Å
respectively. The uranium tetrafluoride ion, UO2 F4 2− , has
been isolated as a dimer with two bridging fluoride ligands.
The U = O, U – Fterminal , and U – Fbridging distances for this
complex were found to be 1.79, 2.15 to 2.20 Å, and 2.30 Å,
respectively.

AnO2(H2O)52+

F−

AnO2F(H2O)4+

F−

17

For the larger chloride ion, the final member in the series
is the tetrachloride, AnO2 Cl4 2− . The uranium, neptunium,
and plutonium tetrachloride dianions have been isolated with
a number of different cations, for example, Na+ , NH4 + ,
K+ , Cs+ , K+ ·18-crown-6, and so on. The An=O distances
were found to be 1.768, 1.751, and 1.737 Å for An = U,
Np, and Pu, respectively. The An – Cl distances in these
complexes is virtually unchanged: 2.675 Å (U), 2.659 Å
(Np), and 2.656 Å (Pu). These structural data suggest that
the chloride ligands are bound in essentially a purely ionic
manner while the covalent nature of the An=O bond is
preserved.
The lower valent actinide ions also bind the halides
to form cationic complexes, for example, AnXn (H2 O)m z−n
(z = 3, n = 1 – 6; z = 4, n = 1 – 7)9 and AnO2 Xn (H2 O)m 1−n
(n = 1 – 4).
7.7 Multidentate Ligands
Polycarboxylic Acids. Carboxylic acids have been found
to bind strongly to actinide ions. The primary binding mode
for the carboxylic acids is bidentate. The affinity of the
low-valent actinides with these ligands increases with the
density of the ligand, for example, ethylenediaminetetraacetate
(EDTA) > acetate. For An4+ , the EDTA ligand is hexadentate
with a twist conformation. Diethylenetriaminepentaacetate
(DTPA) has an even higher affinity for both An3+ and An4+
ions.
Crown Ethers. The crown ether macrocycle, for example,
18-crown-6, has been found to coordinate An3+ and An4+ in
both aqueous and nonaqueous conditions via an inner-sphere
mechanism. For UO2 2+ , multiple compounds that contain
crown ether ligands have been isolated. In most of these
compounds, the crown ether interacts in an outer-sphere
manner, engaging in hydrogen bonding with the ligands on
the metal center. Inner-sphere coordination of UO2 2+ occurs
only under strictly anhydrous conditions. For the Np system,
the presence of a crown ether in aqueous solutions causes
a reduction of the metal center from NpVI and NpV and
a spontaneous inner-sphere coordination of the crown ether
to form NpO2 (18-crown-6)+ . The linear dioxo unit in this
complex sits perpendicular to the plane created by the six
oxygen atoms of the crown ether molecule. The average
Np=O distance for this complex is 1.85 Å and the average
Np – Ocrown distance is 2.?? Å.

AnO2F2(H2O)3
F−

AnO2F53−

F−

AnO2F4(H2O)x2−

Scheme 4

F−

AnO2F3(H2O)x−

8 NONAQUEOUS COORDINATION COMPLEXES
The coordination chemistry of the actinides, especially
thorium and uranium, continues to be of great interest.
Considered ‘hard’ metal ions, An(III to VI) have the

18

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

greatest affinity for hard donor atoms such as N, O,
and the light halides. Tetravalent thorium and tetra- and
hexavalent uranium, neptunium, and plutonium coordination
complexes are the most common; however, trivalent and
pentavalent complexes are being identified with increasing
frequency. As with all of the actinides, the ionic radii of
the ions are significantly larger compared to a transition
metal ion in an identical oxidation state. The result of
this increased ionic radius is an expansion of the possible
coordination environments (3- to 14-coordinate) and electron
counts (up to 24 electrons). The structure and bonding
in the nonaqueous complexes of the actinides like that
of the aqueous complexes involves a mixture of ionic
and covalent bonding. While it is impossible to positively
correlate which orbitals are being utilized or if bonding
is covalent or ionic, the fact that the 5f elements form
complexes with ligands like N2 and CO suggests that a
significant covalent component is present in the complex
formation.
8.1 Starting Materials
Choosing, obtaining, or synthesizing the appropriate
starting material is critical in order to investigate the
coordination chemistry of the actinides in nonaqueous
environments. For thorium, the two most common starting
materials are ThCl4 and ThBr4 (THF)4 . In synthesizing
ThBr4 (THF)4 , thorium metal is reacted with two equivalents
of Br2 in THF at 0 ◦ C. This reaction can be run on very
large scales, 100 to 200 g product. For uranium, neptunium,
and plutonium, the three common starting materials for tri-,
tetra- and hexavalent complexes are AnI3 (THF)4 , AnCl4 , and
AnO2 Cl2 (An = U, Np, Pu), respectively. The first material,
AnI3 (THF)4 , is prepared in THF at 0 ◦ C by adding I2 to
metal chips or turnings.10 The uranium analog is deep purple,
the neptunium is orange, and the plutonium analog is offwhite. The synthetic routes to obtain AnCl4 are provided
in Section 9. For the green UCl4 , the preferred synthetic
method involves the reaction of UO3 with hexachloropropene.
For the hexavalent starting material, AnO2 Cl2 , the most
efficient synthetic route is the oxidation of AnCl4 with O2
at 350 ◦ C.
8.2 Nitrogen Donors
The coordination chemistry of the light actinides
with N-donating ligands is one of the better-studied
areas. Numerous N-donor ligands have been complexed with the actinides, including neutral mono-,
bi-, and polydentate ligands, that is, ammonia, primary, secondary, and tertiary amines, alkyl – aryldiamines
(en = ethylenediamine, 1,4-diaminobenzene), N-heterocycles
(py = pyridine, bipy = bipyridine, terp = terpyridyl), nitriles
(CH3 CN), anionic amides ([N(C2 H5 )2 ]− , [N(Si(CH3 )3 )2 ]− ),

thiocyanates, and polypyrazolylborates. A majority of the published work with these ligand sets has been with complexes of
Th and U; however, some complexes of Np and Pu have also
been reported.
Trivalent. The study of trivalent light actinide coordination complexes with N-donors is complicated by the
relative ease of oxidation. Some examples of the isolated materials include AnX3 (NH3 )n (X = Cl, Br), AnI3 py4 ,
AnI3 (tmed)2 , and AnCl3 (CH3 CN). The homoleptic complexes
[An(CH3 CN)9 ]3+ (An = U, Pu)11 have been synthesized by
dissolution of UI3 (THF)4 and oxidation of plutonium metal
in CH3 CN. Both complexes have a nine-coordinate trigonal
prismatic geometry. The pyramidal tris-silylamido complexes,
An[N(Si(CH3 )3 )2 ]3 (An = U, Np, Pu)10,12 (25) have been synthesized and have been shown to be useful starting materials
for the synthesis of other trivalent or tetravalent compounds.
Other less bulky trisamido AnIII complexes, for example,
U[N(R)Ar]3 (R = Bu and Ar = 3-5-Me2 C6 H3 ), have been
shown to elicit some interesting chemistry. When the
U(NRAr)3 complex is produced in situ by reduction of
UI(NRAr)3 in the presence of Mo[NPh(t-Bu)]3 and N2 ,
an end-on N2 -bridged complex of the form [(NRAr)3 U(µ13
N2 )Mo13
A similar reaction has also been found with
3 ].
cyanoimide where a dinuclear uranium complex was isolated,
(µ2 ;η1 ,η1 -NCN){U[N(R)Ar]3 }2 (26).14
Bu

Ar

BuAr

Bu
N

N
An
(Me3Si)2N

N(SiMe3)2
N(SiMe3)2

U
Bu
Bu

N

N

N
Ar

Ar Ar
(25)

N

Ar

NCN U
Bu

(26)

Another ligand that has received considerable attention
in actinide chemistry over the past few years is trenor trisamidoamine, [N(CH2 CH2 N)SiMe2 But ]3− (NN3 ).15–20
This ligand forms more stable complexes than the trisamido
complexes owing to the forced facial coordination and the
chelate effect. The purple U(NN3 ) can be synthesized by
reduction of the tetravalent UI(NN3 ) complex with K in
pentane or by fractional sublimation of [{U(NN3 )}2 (µ-Cl)].
Lewis bases adducts, for example, pyridine, HMPA, of
U(NN3 ) have been isolated. The oxidation of U(NN3 ) or
its derivatives using trimethylamine N-oxide gives rise to UIV

and UV complexes of the form, [18
2 (µ-O)] and ‘U(NN3 )O’,
respectively. As with the other trisamido complexes, U(NN3 )
reacts reversibly with N2 to give a side-on bound product,
2 2 2
[16
2 (µ -η :η -N2 )]. While the N – N bond distance in this
complex is essentially the same as in free dinitrogen, the
preference for the side-on over end-on bonding is explained
on the basis of covalent interactions where the dinitrogen π p

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

orbital is a better σ -donor than the σ p orbital to trivalent
uranium.21
Polypyrazol-1-yl borates of the form U(HBpz3 )m I3 – m
(THF)n (m = 1, n = 2; m = 2, n = 0) and [PuCl(µ-Cl)22 (Me2 pzH)]2 22 have been reported. For the (UI[HB(Me2 pz)3 ])2
complex, the pyrazolyl borate ligand binds in an unusual
side-on fashion.
Tetravalent. A number of coordination complexes of
AnIV with N-donor ligands have been characterized.
Traditional adducts of AnX4 (An = Th, U, X = halogen,
alkoxide) have been isolated with a variety of neutral Ndonor ligands, for example, monodentate (ammonia, primary
to tertiary amines, nitriles, isocyanides, N-heterocyclics) and
bidentate (diaminoalkanes, diaminoarenes, N-heterocyclics).
The coordination numbers for these complexes generally range
from 8 to 12. As with transition metals, increasing the steric
bulk of the ligands can lead to lower coordination numbers,
for example, An(OR)4 (NH3 )n (R = alkyl, aryl; n = 1, 2).
Amido complexes of AnIV are highly reactive to insertion
reactions and protonation. For example, [An(NR2 )4 ]n (R =
alkyl, aryl)23 undergo insertion reactions with CO2 , COS,
CS2 , and CSe2 to form carbamate complexes and react
with alcohols to form alkoxide complexes. The structure
of the amido complexes varies with the steric bulk of the
ligand. With larger groups, for example, phenyl and pseudotetrahedral, monomeric complexes result, while with smaller
alkyl groups, dimeric complexes with a trigonal bipyramidal
geometry predominate (27). Cationic complexes have also
been stabilized with amido ligands, for example, the pseudooctahedral [U(N(C2 H5 )2 )3 (THF)3 ]B(C6 H5 )4 (28).24–26
Et2N
Et2N

An
Et2N

Et2 NEt2
N
NEt2
N
Et2 NEt
2
(27)

THF
THF

NEt2
NEt2
U
THF
NEt2
(28)

As with the case of the trivalent actinides, the tren,
trisamidoamine (NN3 ), ligand has been used to stabilize AnIV
complexes. The preparation of [An(NN3 )Cl]2 is accomplished
by the reaction of the trilithium salt of NN3 with AnCl4
(An = Th, U).27 The chloride ligand can be exchanged using
metathetical reactions to form An(NN3 )X (X = Br, I, NR2 ,
OR). Anionic complexes, An(NN3 )XX (X = OR, X = OR )
can also be formed by addition of alkoxide salts to the neutral
species.28 Complexes of AnIV with diamidoamine ligands
have also been studied.29
Polypyrazol-1-yl borate coordination with AnIV also results
in stable complexes. The fully characterized complexes
are typically of the form, AnCl2 L2 (L = HBpz3 , Ph2 Bpz2 ,
Bpz4 )30,31 and AnL4 (L = H2 Bpz2 , HBpz3 ).
Another unique N-donor ligand is Fe(CN)6 3−/2− . The
ferrocyanide ion has been found to complex with AnIV

19

(An = Th, U, Np)32 to form molecular compounds. In these
complexes, the Fe(CN)6 octahedra are maintained with the An
ion binding the N atoms of the ferrocyano ligands.
Pentavalent. A limited number of pentavalent actinide
complexes have been isolated with N-donor ligands. The
primary reason for this is the inability of Th to attain the
pentavalent state and the propensity of UV complexes to
disproportionate into UIV and UVI complexes. Some of the
typical complexes that have been reported are adducts of
U(OR)5 and UX5 with the ligands described for the tri- and
tetravalent actinide complexes.
Homoleptic amido compounds of UV , U(NR2 )5 , have been
synthesized by oxidation of anionic tetravalent complexes,
[U(NR2 )5 ]− . A unique hexakisamido UV complex has been
isolated using 2,3:5,6-dibenzo-7-azabicyclo[2.2.1]hepta-2,5diene. The [U(dbabh)]− anion can be oxidized to form a UVI
species both of which have a near-perfect octahedral geometry
with the six amido ligands.33
The oxidation of tetravalent or reduction of hexavalent
uranium compounds with the tren ligand present can
produce stable UV complexes. The one-electron oxidation
of [U(NN3 )(OBut )(OPh)Li-(THF)] by either electrolysis or
chemical means yields the neutral [U(NN3 )(OBut )(OPh)].
The reaction of UO2 Cl4 2− with the lithium salt of tren leads
to the formation of a UV /UVI dinuclear trianion, [UO(µ2 NCH2 CH2 N(CH2 CH2 NSiBut Me2 )2 )]2 − .34 The formation of
this anion is complex due to the activation of both the uranyl
unit and the tren ligand. The structure for this complex consists
of capped trigonal bipyramid uranium atoms. The tren ligand
binds through the amine and two of the amido linkages with
the third becoming an imido ligand. The remaining oxygen
atoms complete the coordination sphere as a terminal ligand.
Hexavalent. The majority of An(VI) coordination chemistry with N-donors has been explored with the uranyl
cation, UO2 2+ . Stable adducts with the ligands discussed
in the tri- and tetravalent complexes have been described,
for example, UO2 X2 Ln (X = halide, OR, NO3 , RCO2 ). The
coordination numbers observed for these complexes are typically 6, 7, or 8 with octahedral, pentagonal bipyramidal, or
hexagonal bipyramidal geometries, respectively. Neutral and
anionic thiocyanates have also been isolated, for example
[UO2 (NCS)x ]2−x ·yH2 O (x = 2 – 5).
A unique amido complex of UO2 2+ has recently
been reported, [UO2 (N(SiMe3 )2 )3 ]− (29).35 This anion has
a uranium center with a rarely observed coordination
number of 5 in a trigonal bipyramidal geometry. This
complex was synthesized by protonolysis of the dianion, [UO2 (N(SiMe3 )2 )4 ]2− (30) or through a reaction of
UO2 Cl2 (THF)2 with three equivalents of K[N(SiMe3 )2 ]. The
crystal structure of this anion revealed long U=O bonds
(1.80 Å) and relatively short U – N bonds (2.31 Å).
Homoleptic UVI amido complexes are also known.
U(NMe2 )6 is synthesized by a two-electron oxidation of

20

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY
−

O
(Me3Si)2N

U
O

N(SiMe3)2
N(SiMe3)2

(29)

2−

O
(Me3Si)2N
(Me3Si)2N

U
O
(30)

N(SiMe3)2

These ligands have been proposed as actinide sequestering
agents.

N(SiMe3)2

the tetravalent anion [U(NMe2 )6 ]2− . The complex has an
octahedral geometry and slowly decomposes over several
hours.
8.3 Phosphorus Donors
The actinides are hard acids and therefore phosphine
coordination complexes are rare. Most of the isolated
actinide – phosphine complexes contain the chelating ligand
1,2-(bisdimethylphosphine)ethane, (DMPE), for example,
An(BH4 )3 (dmpe) and AnX4 (dmpe)2 (X = Cl, Br, I, CH3 ).
For thorium, dmpe complexes are the only ones that
have been stabilized; however, uranium complexes with
monodentate phosphines, that is, P(CH3 )3 , have been reported.
Uranium(V) phosphine complexes have also been synthesized
using amido ligands with phosphine linkages, for example,
UCl2 [N(CH2 CH2 PPri2 )2 ]3 .
The tetrakis(dialkylphosphido) complexes, An(PPP)4
(An = Th, U); PPP = P(CH2 CH2 P(CH3 )2 ),36 were prepared
by reacting AnCl4 with four equivalents of the lithium
or potassium salt of the PPP tetra-anion. The structure
of these compounds shows triangulated dodecahedra distorted toward bicapped trigonal prisms. These complexes
represent one of the first actinide systems containing exclusively metal – phosphorus bonds. These complexes are known
to undergo insertion reactions as seen in actinide amido
compounds.37
A unique complex has been recently reported with uranium
bound to elemental phosphorus, (µ-η4 ,η4 -P4 )[U(NRAr)3 ]2
(R = t-Bu, Ar = 3,5-dimethylphenyl).38 The compound was
prepared by reaction of the trivalent U(NRAr)3 with white
phosphorus.
8.4 Oxygen Donors
A wide variety of O-donors have been used to complex
uranium. The predominate oxidation states are IV and VI;
however, complexes with An(III) and An(V) are also known.
The majority of the complexes have coordination numbers
of 6 to 12, depending mostly on the steric bulk of the
ancillary ligands. Owing to the prevalence of O-donating
ligands in natural systems, that is, aquo, hydroxide, carbonate,
phosphate, carboxylate, and catecholate, understanding the
complexation of the actinides is important to environmental,
waste processing and storage, and bioinorganic chemistry.
Some of the other O-donating ligands that have been studied
are crown ethers, Schiff bases, polyglycols, and cryptands.

8.5 Oxygen-containing Organics
The actinides have a high degree of specificity for
neutral and anionic oxygen-containing organic molecules. The
actinide complexes with O-donor ligands that are most widely
studied include alkoxides, aryloxides amide, carboxylates, and
oxalates. Complexes with alcohols, ethers, esters, ketones,
aldehydes, ketoenolates, and carbamates have also been
reported.
8.5.1 Alkoxides and Aryloxides
Alkoxide and aryloxide ligands are excellent ligands for
the actinides. As a result, these ligands have been studied
extensively in the coordination chemistry and reactivity39 of
tri-, tetra-, penta-, and hexavalent actinides. The alkoxides and
aryloxides can be synthesized by a variety of routes; the two
most popular routes include: direct reaction of actinide halides
with alkali metal salts of the alkoxide or aryloxide of interest
and protonolysis of actinide amides by alcohols.
For the tri-, tetra-, and pentavalent light actinides, the
structure of the alkoxide and aryloxides are strongly dependent
on the steric bulk of the ligand. In order to stabilize monomeric
complexes, for example, An(OR)n or An(OAr)n (n = 3, 4, 5),
sterically demanding ligands must be utilized, for example [O2,6-t-(C4 H9 )2 C6 H3 ]− . This ligand has been used to prepare
monomers of NpIII /PuIII (An(O-2,6-t-(C4 H9 )2 C6 H3 )3 ) (31),
ThIV /UIV (An(O-2,6-t-(C4 H9 )2 C6 H3 )4 (An = Th, U)), and so
on. As the steric bulk is decreased, dimers (Th2 (OCH(iC3 H7 )2 )8 ) (32), trimers (U3 O(O-t-C4 H9 )10 ) (33), tetramers
(Th4 (O-i-C3 H7 )16 (py)2 , and other oligomers can be formed.
In the case of the pentavalent actinide alkoxide complexes,
the actinide metal can significantly influence the degree of

RO

Pu
O

O

O

Th
RO
RO

(31)

R
O
O
R

(32)
RO
RO
U

R
O
R
O

OR
OR
U
O

RO
U

RO OR
(33)

OR

OR
OR
Th
OR

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

oligomerization. For example, the reaction of PaCl5 with five
equivalents of NaOEt results in the formation of Pa(OEt)5 ,
which has been estimated to have a degree of oligomerization
of 5.7. However, for UV , a trimer is observed with the less
bulky methoxide ligand, U(OMe)5 .
A mononuclear trivalent uranium complex has
been synthesized with the six-coordinate trisalkoxide
ligand, 1,4,7-tris(3,5-di-tert-butyl-2-hydroxybenzyl)-1,4,7triazacyclononane), ((ArO)3 tacn).40 The neutral complex
U((ArO)3 tacn)(CH3 CN) was found to react with organic
azides to form UIV azido or UV imido compounds of
the form [((ArO)3 tacn)U(N3 )] and [((ArO)3 tacn)U(NSiMe3 )],
respectively.
Homoleptic AnVI alkoxides and aryloxides tend to
form monomers of the formula An(OMe)6 . The octahedral
U(OMe)6 is synthesized by oxidation of the tetravalent
[U(OMe)6 ]2− by PbIV and sublimes at 87 ◦ C. Other stable
AnVI alkoxides and aryloxides include the actinyl unit. Using
simple metathetical reactions, for example, AnO2 Cl2 (THF)2
(An = U, Np, Pu) reacted with potassium salts of alkoxides
and aryloxides, complexes of the form AnO2 (OR)n 2−n (R =
alkyl, CHPh2 , CH(t-Bu)Ph, 2,6-(tBu2 )C6 H3 , 2,6-Ph2 C6 H3 ,
2,6-Cl2 C6 H3 , 2,6-Me2 C6 H3 , other aryl) can be isolated.41,42
As with the lower valent compounds, the steric bulk
of the ligand dictates the nuclearity of the complex.
For diphenylmethoxide, a monomer UO2 (OCHPh2 )2 (THF)2
results, while the diisopropylmethoxide analog results in
the formation of a tetramer, [UO2 (OCH(i-Pr)2 )2 ]4 . Both of
these compounds have pseudo-octahedral geometries. The
coordination sphere of the latter complex has the following
ligands: one terminal alkoxo, two bridging alkoxo, and one
bridging oxo.

8.6 Macrocyclic Ligands
Porphyrins have been found to bind the tetravalent
ions of Th and U in the form of the bisporphyrin
complexes, An(P)2 (An = Th, U; P = octaethylporphyrin,
tetra-p-tolylporphyrin).43 These sandwich-type complexes are
useful for studying the electronic structure of porphyrins. For
example, Th is electrochemically inactive, which allows the
porphyrin-based electrochemistry to be studied exclusively
for its role in photosynthesis.
Expanded porphyrins have recently been used to coordinate
actinyl ions in an inner-sphere fashion.44 The expanded
porphyrins have 4 – 6 nitrogen-containing rings making very
large cavities that can accommodate the actinide ions. The
actinyl ions bind to the expanded porphyrins in an inner-sphere
manner such that the ring of N atoms takes up the equatorial
plane, leaving the oxo ligands above and below the porphyrin
ring. The isolated and fully characterized neptunium-expanded
porphyrin complex, [NpO2 (Hexaphyrin(1.0.1.0.0.0))]− (34),
represented the first all-aza donor ligand to be bound to the
neptunyl ion.45

21

N O N
N

Np

N

N O N

(34)

9 SOLID-STATE MATERIALS
9.1 Metals
Actinides display a variety of metallic structures along
the series, and many allotropic modifications are seen for
Pa, U, Np, and Pu. In Table 5, the physical properties and
metallic structures for the various allotropes are provided.
Plutonium is probably one of the most interesting metals
from a metallurgical standpoint. It has seven different
allotropes existing between room temperature and the
relatively low melting point of 641 ◦ C. In addition to these
phases, some high-pressure phases can also be stabilized.
The α-phase of Pu is extremely brittle, with mechanical
properties similar to cast iron. The δ-phase is quite ductile,
having mechanical properties resembling aluminum, which
makes it better suited for machining. The δ-phase can
be stabilized at room temperature by alloying with small
quantities of other elements, for example, Al, Ce, Ga, Si,
and so on. In addition to the different phases of plutonium
that can be stabilized by alloying, superconductivity has
been discovered in a plutonium intermetallic compound,
PuCoGaa5 . The Tc for this compound is unusually high
at 18.5 K.46
The variety in metallic structure can be explained by the
role of the 5f-electrons with their greater radial distribution.
In the beginning of the actinide series, f-electrons interact
with each other and with d- and s-electrons to give broad
energy bands as in the transition metals. This delocalized
character of the 5f-electrons differs greatly from the highly
localized 4f-electrons found in the lanthanides beyond Ce.
As the 5f level is filled moving across the actinide series,
the extent of 5f-electron localization increases and the
electron energy decreases below the Fermi band level. In
the crossover region (U through Am), there is only a small
energy difference between the localized and the delocalized
5f-electrons.
For elements with localized 5f-electrons (Am to Cf ), the
symmetric dhcp metal structure resembles that of the light
lanthanides. However, high pressure relieves the f – f overlap
and the americium structure becomes the same as uranium.

22

ACTINIDES: INORGANIC & COORDINATION CHEMISTRY

Table 5 Physical properties for selected actinide metals
Thorium
Atomic number
Melting point ( ◦ C)
Boiling point ( ◦ C)
Enthalpy of fusion (kJ mol−1 )
Enthalpy of vaporization,
25 ◦ C, (kJ mol−1 )
α-phase
Structure
Temperature
range ( ◦ C)
Density
(g cm−3 )
β-phase
Structure
Temperature
range
Density
(g cm−3 )
γ -phase
Structure
Temperature
range
Density
(g cm−3 )
δ-phase
Structure
Temperature
range
Density
(g cm−3 )
δ’-phase
Structure
Temperature
range
Density
(g cm−3 )
ε-phase
Structure
Temperature
range
Density
(g cm−3 )

Protactinium

Uranium

Neptunium

Plutonium

Americium

Curium

Californium

90
1750
3800
1