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  1. I like the overall article, but someone might have one technical quibble… I believe most of the heavier elements are thought to have been produced after the “big bang” by stars nearing the end of their lives as novas or supernovas. Still energy from the big bang, but somewhat indirectly.

  2. “At the time of the Big Bang – the cause of which can be debated forever – a spectrum of elements formed.”

    I normally read that the heavy atoms are created by stars going super-nova not at the time of the Big Bang.

    1. This is true.  The only elements formed in significant amounts in the Big Bang are hydrogen (incl. deuterium), helium and a bit of lithium.

      My understanding is that it was simply too hot for heavier nuclei to survive, and by the time things cooled sufficiently the universe was too rarefied for heavier elements to form.  It took the density (and ironically, cooler temperatures) of a stellar core collapse to form actinides.

  3. Rod – thanks for the post and the meditation on thankfulness. The quibbles can get out of hand if we forget the theme (there are actually more to be had about primordial vs. stellar generated elements). It’s only the extra power that those stored energies let us tap that gives us our modern world. Power that should be at the service of all the living world, including all humans, for benefit and not destruction.

  4. “There is a pervasive myth claiming that energy is difficult to store.”

    This is a true myth.

    Many things happen in nature that we humans find difficult to do and even more difficult to do economically like storing energy. For instance, fusing small atoms to make uranium we humans find very difficult to do.

    Storing energy by making hydrocarbons we have done in several ways from several different energy sources. I am most interested in making methanol from liquid fission and sea water and hope someone makes a ton of money while doing this to save to planet.

      1. That’s not particularly useful for a layperson. If I had a bar of uranium metal I could hit my neighbor over the head with it, but it would be useless to me as a form of stored energy. Not so if I instead had a chunk of coal or if I had a working watermill on my property. In this situation even a windmill would be more useful to me.

        That said – how difficult is it to operate a working reactor? If you have somebody with a nuclear physics degree overseeing the reactor and assuming you have computerized the monitoring of various things where practical, is there value to having somebody that’s basically a layperson to be an extra set of eyes?

        1. @Tavis Lucy

          A barrel of crude oil would also be relatively useless for a member of the general public. That difficulty is overcome by the fact that there are companies that specialize in refining crude oil into more readily useful products like diesel fuel and gasoline – and a host of other useful feedstocks. Actinides are wonderful stores of energy; finished nuclear fuel is the form I would recommend for a stockpile at the community, factory, campus, city, state or country level.

          Here’s a partial answer to your question about operating a reactor. As a 27 year old with a BS in English, I led a department of about 40 people, most just high school grads with an additional 18 months of technical training plus OJT. We operated and maintained a nuclear power plant that could have supplied reliable electricity to a small town of perhaps 15,000 – 20,000 people. That reactor was built with technology available in the late 1950s. I like to say that one of the easiest jobs in the Navy is standing watch as a reactor operator.

          There are projects underway today that are striving to produce even smaller reactors that can be operated either in auto or remotely most of the time.

      2. Stored energy, I like the idea of the Hydrogen powered car but the 5-10,000 PSI for it’s fuel tank is a bit concerning. What are your thoughts on hydrogen powered vehicles?

  5. “Despite the pervasive propaganda to the contrary coal can be the best fuel choice in a given situation.”

    How so?

    The only advantage I see for coal power plants over current nuclear reactors is that they can be easily shut down, and they don’t have anywhere near the ramping ability of gas or hydroelectric.

    I do recognize, though, that coal – ideally being pure carbon – is a valuable feedstock material. I just don’t know anything about coal in its various applications other than heating water to produce electricity.

    For that matter, for a substance that powers countless millions of automobiles, I happen to think gasoline is relatively non-toxic. Although further research is ofcourse always a plus.

    1. Coal can fuel direct carbon fuel cells.
      There are several variants of those. Some require refined carbon (which could,
      of course, come from coal) and (as I recall) one could use coal directly.

      1. Coal has ash, and ash handling is (beyond) troublesome.

        DCFCs which do not have to handle coal would be considerably easier.  Given the recent advances which e.g. electrolyze molten carbonates to nanotubes and oxygen, it is likely better to avoid fossil fuels in these matters.

  6. Various corrections have the right of it. To say more, every element more massive than iron requires a flood of neutrons. So start with a neutron star and cause it to explode by feeding it mass from a nearby companion star.

  7. At some point we’re going to recognize that burning hydrocarbons to release energy is not the best use of these limited feedstocks that drive so many other aspects of our modern society. Using the fission of actinides to provide the energy to drive the conversion of raw hydrocarbons into the materials that drive our modern society is a much better use of these materials than simply generating heat and light.

  8. Recent-ish thinking suggests that supernova are insufficient to produce the observed quantity of heavy elements. Recent (August 2017) observational evidence seems to confirm the neutron star collision theory.

    Apparently a neutron star collision can produce Jupiter sized masses of heavy elements. I want the mining concession on those events…

    I think this is the best summary I found:

    https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/10/17/neutron-star-collision-an-astronomical-gold-mine/

    This article contains extensive explanation of all the background information in an easy to read presentation:

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/did-neutron-stars-or-supernovas-forge-the-universes-supply-of-gold-20170323/

    More of a science journal type summary article:

    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-10/thuo-lc101617.php

    Another popularization, but a shorter read than my second link:

    http://www.iflscience.com/space/neutron-star-collisions-are-responsible-gold-uranium-and-other-elements/