Batteries from Nuclear Waste – Is it possible?

Nuclear Batteries? Yes, you heard it right. Researchers at the University of Bristol have used graphite, the waste product of nuclear reactors, to develop a man-made diamond which produces electricity when placed in close proximity to a radioactive source. Although these batteries produce only a small amount of current, they offer an incredibly long battery life of thousands of years.

They have found a method to reuse these graphite blocks to generate electricity out of the radioactive waste. Initially the graphite blocks are heated up to very high temperatures, and turn them into a gas. Then, the radioactive gas is compressed to grow a diamond. The beta particles emitted by the radioactive material interact with the crystal lattice and throw off electrons, Electricity Generated!!

To prove the feasibility of the technique, the research team has designed a prototype nuclear battery using a nickel isotope, nickel-63, as the radioactive source. However, they are planning to use carbon-14 in their future designs


Prototype Characteristics

Voltage – 2 V estimated (Ni-63 1.9 V measured)

Energy – 15.8 MJ over first 5,000 years, or total of 4.4 kWh

Prototype size – 10 mm × 10 mm × 0.5 mm (plus electrodes)

Temperature – physically stable at 750 °C

The source of these values is unclear

The half-life of C-14 is 5,730 years, so it will take that long to lose 50% of its power.

Fig:  Diagram of solar cell direct energy conversion. The nuclear battery works the same way except that the electron-hole pairs are created by α or β rays, either directly through impact or indirectly by means of light emitted by a phosphorescent layer.

A short video clip on nuclear batteries!   -

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