Centuries ago, alchemists sought a magical or scientific formula to create new metals out of existing elements. While they never achieved this goal, modern scientists with access to particle accelerators and nuclear reactors have been able to synthesize several new metals under laboratory conditions. Some elements that occur very rarely in nature can be harvested in relatively large quantities following nuclear fission reactions. These are some of the rare metals that can be synthesized under laboratory conditions.
Ruthenium and Rhodium
Ruthenium and rhodium are shiny, silvery-white metals that are both produced as by-products for nuclear fission. Both metals have relatively long half-lives which means that it is possible to extract them from spent nuclear fuel cells and repurpose them for commercial use. About a kilogram each of ruthenium and rhodium can be recovered from each cell. These metals are commonly used as additives to metal alloys to make them harder and more resistant to corrosoion.
Palladium is similar in appearance and hardness to ruthenium and rhodium, but it has a much lower level of radioactivity. This means that it is generally safe to harvest and use even in very large amounts. One ton of nuclear fuel produces about one kilogram of palladium. The most common usage for palladium is in catalytic converters, devices which help limit harmful emissions from motor vehicles. It is also used in electronics, jewelry, and medicine.
Osmium is the densist element known, and highly resistant to corrosion when it comes in contact with other elements. Though extremely rare, even in spent nuclear fuel, osmium has a number of uses in electronics and as an additive in metal alloys. Osmium is created by harvesting rhenium isotopes from a nuclear reaction, and then exposing these isotopes to further radiation, transmuting them into osmium.
Other precious metals like gold and silver are also sometimes produced as by-products of nuclear fission. However, they always occur in small amounts, making this an uneconimical method for harvesting the materials.
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