Radioactivity is the key to today's alchemy.
What happens in a nuclear reactor? Uranium is transmuted into
plutonium, caesium, strontium, barium, iodine, krypton and
xenon, to name but a few elements. These often decay to other
stable elements through various radioactive processes.
Such nuclear reactions are used to produce
americium-241 for use in household smoke detectors, technetium-99
for use as a radioactive tracer in health care, and in production
of plutonium-239 - the isotope
of plutonium used in nuclear weapons.
Such transmutations are interesting and useful,
but what about making gold?
In 1980, Glenn Seaborg was successful in
transmuting minute quantities lead to gold, possibly via bismuth.
In 1972, Russian scientists found that the lead shielding
of an experimental nuclear reactor near Lake Baikal in
Siberia had unexpectedly turned to gold!
Unfortunately such gold is likely to be radioactive,
and would decay back to stable lead, whilst releasing dangerous
A possible route to gold would be from mercury.
If mercury of its various naturally occuring isotopes could
be made to capture neutrons, the resulting nuclear decay chains
would eventually yield gold-197, the most
common naturally occuring gold isotope, and perfectly stable.
The neutrons used in this process would need
to have an energy of at least 9 MeV in order for a complete
transmutation of the mercury to occur. These energies are
well within the capabilities of nuclear reactors
however the gold is likely to be contamiated with other radioisotopes.
Particle accelerators could therefore be the alternative...