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posted by GreatTech
Can we separate heavy elements, say uranium or plutonium, into lighter elements, say hydrogen and helium? [Edited by Don W]
Originally posted by DragonsDemesne
Yes you can, it is called 'nuclear fission'.
It also occurs naturally through radioactive radiation, and, depending on the element, can take millions of years, a fraction of a second, or anywhere in between, but is a fixed number for each element.
Going the other way is 'nuclear fusion'. This occurs naturally in the sun, and has been done in labs on earth. For example, in the sun, hydrogen naturally fuses into helium, and gives off tons of energy as it does so. Eventually, all the hydrogen will be gone, and the helium starts fusing into heavier things. For reasons I'm not too clear on (and if I recall, science can't explain yet) this natural process stops with iron, and that's when the sun will die, in a few billion years.
So yeah, scientists can separate or fuse elements into different ones, but it is, at the moment, not very easy. It's done every day in nuclear powerplants, and is behind the explosive power of atomic bombs.