# How could a creature derive energy from radioactive elements?

Have a creature that doesn't really need vitamins or minerals, it only requires energy which goes through a energy-matter conversion to build what it needs. Radioactive materials would be great sources for this creature's high energy needs.

This creature has extreme regenerative properties so damage from the radioactivity won't be an issue. It is made of elements not in our periodic table so it might not even be affected by radiation damage. It is able to store massive amounts of energy in these tiny pocket-dimension-holding crystals throughout its body, and expel the energy to create destructive energy blasts, fly, etc.

What would it's body have to do for it to obtain the energy from radioactive materials, and what would this do to the material? Would it lose its radioactivity?

• It'd spend more energy regenerating from radiation poisoning than actually gaining energy from the radioactivity material inside of it, in all likelihood. – Halfthawed Sep 13 '19 at 3:24
• There are already real-world organisms that do this - they might help spark your imagination. For example, radiotrophic fungi "appear to perform radiosynthesis, that is, to use the pigment melanin to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy for growth." – Joe White Sep 13 '19 at 3:28
• "It is made of elements not in our periodic table", then it is a magic creature. And magic doesn't really require an explanation, right? – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 13 '19 at 3:55
• @L.Dutch Well that doesn't really mean much for the question. It just means that he won't be damaged by it. I still want to know how a biological lifeform would take energy from radioactive materials. – Chickenpeep Chickenpeep Sep 13 '19 at 4:22
• If you can convert matter directly to energy, then you don't need radioactive materials; any matter will do. In fact nonradioactive stuff is better; it is safer to concentrate and store, and easier to find, and generally less reactive and toxic even even leaving the actual radioactivity issue aside. – Starfish Prime Sep 13 '19 at 6:56

Radioactive materials would be great sources for this creature's high energy needs.

I'm not entirely sure why you think this is the case. Most radioactive materials release relatively little energy, generally in forms that are quite difficult to harness. The most vigourously radiactive materials, ie. the ones that would be most useful as energy sources, appear in only tiny quantities in nature, and would require considerable effort to refine or synthesise.

The decay of 210Polonium, for example, generates about 140W/g via handy charged particle emission, which is pretty impressive... right up to the point where you realise that world production is something like 10 grams a month, and you'll find it much simpler and safer to generate much more power practically any other way.

What would it's body have to do for it to obtain the energy from radioactive materials

Gamma rays might be harvestable via photosynthetic processes (see L.Dutch's answer and read up on radiotrophic fungi for more details). Alpha and beta particles might be amenable to some clever chemical process, but that sounds pretty tenuous. Charged particles like these (and also fission fragments) are best harvested with some sort of electromagnetic system to usefully harness that energy. Have a read up on betavoltaics. Direct energy conversion may also be relevant. Energy capture from things like neutrons is quite difficult given their highly penetrating nature... you could build a huge shield to catch them all, but your creature will end up very big and heavy and inefficient.

The easy way is just to build a heat engine to take advantage of the heat generated by decay, like a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. Not very organic, but, y'know... it works.

what would this do to the material? Would it lose its radioactivity?

Power collection wouldn't do anything to the material... the material is undergoing radioactive decay, and that means it is transforming into another material. This may be more or less stable, it may be a gas, it may emit a different kind of radiation. In any case, the radioactive decay chain will either end with something stable (ie. entirely non-radioactive) or sufficiently stable that useful power can't be generated from its radioactive decay. The length of time your fuel will last for is determined by its half life.

The only kind of high power generation scheme where radioactive materials really shine is fission. Many fissile materials are slightly more straightfoward to come by than intense radiation sources, and slightly safer and easier to handle. You just need to make your creature a nuclear powered tank. That's probably the only real solution to your needs.

It is made of elements not in our periodic table so it might not even be affected by radiation damage.

If you're just going to invoke handwavium and magic, then just declare your creature to be powered by handwavium decay, harvested by the Fleeb-Hnurkenflerd process. This is a much simpler solution all round, and doesn't make things less believable than they already are.

Oh, and I missed this crucial point:

it only requires energy which goes through a energy-matter conversion to build what it needs

Making matter from energy is an astonishingly energy-intensive process. Remember $$E = mc^2$$... making one gram of matter from energy takes about $$1*10^{14}$$ joules. That's slightly more energy than is released by the complete fissioning of an entire kilo of pure 235U, and refining enough natural uranium to get that much fission fuel is a complex and energy intensive process. Synethesising matter ex nihilo like this is almost always the wrong thing to do. There's lots of matter in the world, just reprocess some of that; it'll be much easier and much less energy intensive.

• Personally, I've always found the Fleece-Pezants process to be much better for harvesting. But hey, to each their own. – Frostfyre Sep 13 '19 at 12:42
• @Frostfyre: But the Fleece-Pezants process produces large amounts of Parahypotheticum, which the organism would have to handle. – celtschk Sep 15 '19 at 7:56

Move your setting to much higher energy environment and have your creature habit a corona of a star. If there is being that is on really friendly terms with radoactivity then it will thrive there. Stars are the best sources of energy in the whole unverse.

Radioactivity is in general rather harmful to biological life as we know it. There are exceptions (radiophilic organisms) but the most of the livig things do not like ionizing radiation.

Life evolving in the stars atmospehere could be more plausible than most of the radiation-spawned superheroes. It will be of course tough task to describe how such creatures interact with the lower-energy beings. Even simply observing the star-dweller would burn the human eyes in split-second.

• That's a good idea, though this particular genetically altered superpowered character wouldn't want to spend eternity sunbathing, it would be a good snack between interstellar journeys. – Chickenpeep Chickenpeep Sep 13 '19 at 19:42

They can "simply" use a quantum cascade principle, mimicking what happens with photosynthesis:

• a first molecular species absorbs the energy from a photon, in this case a gamma photon, or from an energetic particle, in this case alpha or beta rays.
• the absorbed energy is then released to some other species, until it can be stored as chemical energy in some molecule and released on demand

The above mechanism also explains why they don't receive damage from the radiation: the energy is diverted into an useful way.

• Real life example. For complex multicellular organisms, don't forget the green cow issue. Also, if the gamma photo strikes something other than a pigment molecule then it can still cause serious damage, so the rest of its biology will need to be robust (and as a result energy-intensive to maintain) as well. – Starfish Prime Sep 13 '19 at 6:54