New technology has been developed that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current. The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life.
To power the 'diamond batteries', the team uses carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, which is generated in graphite bricks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants. Research by academics at Bristol has shown that the radioactive carbon-14 is concentrated at the surface of these bricks, making it possible to process it to remove the majority of the radioactive material. The extracted carbon-14 is then incorporated into a diamond to produce a nuclear-powered battery. The UK currently holds 90,000 tonnes of graphite bricks and by extracting carbon-14 from them, their radioactivity decreases, reducing the cost and challenge of safely storing this nuclear waste.
Despite their low-power, relative to current battery technologies, the life-time of these diamond batteries could revolutionise the powering of devices over long timescales. Using Carbon-14 the battery would take 5,730 years to reach 50 per cent power, which is about as long as human civilization has existed.
This innovative method for radioactive energy harvesting will be presented by Professor Tom Scott, from the University of Bristol at a seminar hosted by the West Cumbria IOP group. Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.