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How to Turn Nuclear Waste Into Electric Energy

Posted November 28, 2016

Scientists at the Bristol university have found a way to convert worthless nuclear waste into diamond batteries that can generate small electric current for a long period of time. The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life.

The researchers are working to improve efficiency by utilising carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, which is generated in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants. The extracted carbon-14 is then incorporated into a diamond to produce a nuclear-powered battery. Extracting carbon-14 from graphite blocks helps to decrease the radioactivity and reduces the cost and safety storing this nuclear waste.

To produce the batteries, the blocks are heated to drive out the carbon-14 from the radioactive end, leaving the blocks much less radioactive than before. Carbon-14 gas is then collected and using low pressures and high temperatures is turned into diamonds. Once formed, the beta particles emitted by the carbon-14 interact with the diamond’s crystal lattice, throwing off electrons and generating electricity. The diamonds themselves are radioactive, so they are given a second non-radioactive diamond coating to act as a radiation shield.

The life-time of these diamond batteries could revolutionise the powering of devices over long timescales.  This would take 5,730 years to reach 50 per cent power. Obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft.

The video below explains how the nuclear diamond battery works.

Source: University of Bristol

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