Stable Transuranic Elements

Image from Steve Bowers

Stable Transuranics are usually classified as superheavy nuclei with proton numbers greater than 112 and half lives of at least one year, though precise definitions and naming conventions tend to vary between different polities. Stable transuranic elements have not been found in nature, and must be synthesised.

Though the first artificial elements were created before the Information Age began, nuclear synthesis was very primitive and remained so for many years. Early techniques included scavenging useful products of radioactive decay or neutron transmutation from the waste of fission power plants, and the bombarding of heavy nuclei in particle accelerators to create (generally unstable and very short lived) novel nuclei by fusion. The synthesis of novel elements remained an interesting topic of research, but the new materials decayed so rapidly no practical applications were possible. An 'island' of stable isotopes was theorised; optimal numbers of protons and neutrons which would boost the half lives of these new materials from milliseconds to hours, weeks, years or even more... but nuclear alchemy remained in its infancy and constructing a nucleus with sufficient neutrons remained out of reach.

The first breakthrough did not occur until the Interplanetary Age, thanks to rapid advances in particle accelerator power levels and sophistication driven by the demand for bulk antimatter production. The validation of the stable island theories was heralded as the dawn of a new era of physics and chemistry. However, the new elements remained firmly in the labs because it was simply impractical to produce them in substantial quantities even with the best accelerators available... even generating a gram of the new materials required many giant accelerators running for many months. Construction of such systems was not just enormously expensive, but was in direct competition with the nascent antimatter farming industry: for the same outlay of time and effort, a few milligrams of antimatter could be generated instead, a material with immediate commercial use and value. By comparison, a few milligrams of Feynmanium had no use at all outside of the research lab. Nonetheless, transuranic synthesis continued tp slowly improve, producing ever increasing volumes, albeit at a cost that only large governments and major corporations could afford. The new materials were generally used for classified military research into compact power supplies and fissile explosives. It was not until the beginning of the Solsys Golden Age and the proliferation of highly capable superturings that the bulk synthesis issues were finally resolved. With annual production now measured in tonnes instead of mere kilograms, uses for the chemical and mechanical properties of transuranics multiplied rapidly.

Since the late First Federation era, almost all production of transuranics has been done using Deep Well Industrial Zones. Once a useful amount of any transuranic has been synthesised, transmutation into other transuranic elements becomes a trivial task even for medium-tech level modosophont civilisations, making such materials a valuable trade commodity in low-tech and early-stage fringe colonies.

First Singularity and modosophont industrial bases continue to make use of transuranics to this day, often for radiation shielding but also with highly stable forms (with half-lives generally measured in centuries or millenia) used for compact counterweights, gyroscopes and flywheels in devices of all sizes from synsects to interstellar vehicles. Micromechanical and nanomechanical components using stable transuranics are not used in high radiation environments due to their large neutron-absorption cross-sections, but are common elsewhere. Some specialist spacecraft, vecs and even cyborgs may use less stable isotopes as power sources for radioisotope thermal generators, fission rockets and very small fission reactors. Some Hider groups value the long term stability of certain transuranics and the ease with which they may be transmuted into fissile isotopes as a power source which compares favourably with many kinds of primitive antimatter storage.

Military use of stable transuranics is much rarer since the Golden Age, given the relative ease with which compact laser-triggered fusion devices and antimatter-catalysed fission and fusion explosives can be made or obtained. Nonetheless, some primitive and remote societies and terrorist groups have been known to make "pocket nukes" and other highly concealable weapons such as intense neutron sources and single pulse gamma ray lasers. The ease with which weapons-grade material may be made from other transuranics means that the use of these materials in bulk is often carefully monitored and controlled by local law-enforcement and arms-limitation groups.

Technologically advanced civilisations making widespread use of magmatter and conversion power have much less need for transuranics, mainly using them in more specialised roles such as nuclear chemistry, or the shells of vecs and vehicles intended to operate in particularly harsh high-radiation environments (such as the Radiation Nation).

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Development Notes
Text by Ithuriel
Initially published on 19 March 2015.