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Naturally occurring tritium is extremely rare on Earth, where trace amounts are formed by the interaction of the atmosphere with cosmic rays.It can be produced by irradiating lithium metal or lithium-bearing ceramic pebbles in a nuclear reactor.This has raised concerns that if tritium were used in large quantities, in particular for fusion reactors, it may contribute to radioactive contamination, although its short half-life should prevent significant long-term accumulation in the atmosphere.The high levels of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing that took place prior to the enactment of the Partial Test Ban Treaty proved to be unexpectedly useful to oceanographers.Since it continually decays into helium-3, the total amount remaining was about 75 kg (165 lb) at the time of the report.Tritium for American nuclear weapons was produced in special heavy water reactors at the Savannah River Site until their closures in 1988.

Ontario Power Generation's "Tritium Removal Facility" processes up to 2,500 tonnes (2,500 long tons; 2,800 short tons) of heavy water a year, and it separates out about 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) of tritium, making it available for other uses.

The release or recovery of tritium needs to be considered in the operation of nuclear reactors, especially in the reprocessing of nuclear fuels and in the storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The production of tritium is not a goal, but rather a side-effect.

Worldwide, the production of tritium from natural sources is 148,000 terabecquerels per year.

The global equilibrium inventory of tritium created by natural sources remains approximately constant at 2,590,000 terabecquerels.

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