So far, we have been dumping our dangerous nuclear waste into oceans or deep inside the earth, hoping they will stay there. Now, there is a better way out. Scientists are now confident they can use nuclear waste as a source of energy to convert radioactive gas into diamonds of the artificial type, not as jewelry, but to be used as batteries.
Scientists claim the diamonds can generate their own electrical current. As they are made of radioactive material with long half-life, the batteries could potentially provide power for thousands of years. According to Tom Scott, a geochemist from the University of Bristol in the UK, the batteries will simply produce direct current, without emissions, and without requiring any moving parts or maintenance.
The radioactive material, encapsulated within a diamond, will turn the long-term problem of handling nuclear waste into a nuclear powered battery producing a long-term supply of clean energy. As a demonstration of their claims, Scott’s team has developed a prototype diamond battery using an unstable isotope of Nickel-63 as its source of radiation.
The half-life of Nickel-63 is approximately 100 years. That means after 100 years, the prototype battery would still be retaining about 50 percent of its original charge. However, the scientists claim they have an even better source for making these batteries. They want to use the huge quantities of nuclear waste generated and stockpiled by UK.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the first generation of Magnox nuclear reactors in the UK used graphics blocks to sustain nuclear reactions. However, the graphite blocks turned radioactive and generated an unstable carbon isotope, the Carbon-14.
Although UK had retired the last of these Magnox reactors by 2015, the decades of power generation has left a huge amount of nuclear byproduct as waste—nearly 95,000 tons of radioactive graphics blocks need to be safely stored and monitored.
Additionally, as Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years, UK may have to take care of this dangerous waste for a long, long time. However, it also means this material could be used to make batteries that last an amazingly long time—provided scientists could repurpose them into the diamond structure, just as they did with Nickel-63.
Carbon-14 emits only short-range radiation, one quickly absorbed by any nearby solid material. According to Neil Fox, one of the researchers, although touching or ingesting Carbon-14 would be dangerous, encasing it within diamond would prevent any short-range radiation from escaping. Moreover, diamond would offer the ultimate protection, as it is the hardest substance known to man.
The team presented their ideas at a lecture at the University of Bristol, but has yet to publish their research. The researchers claim that although Carbon-14 batteries would be good for low-power applications, their endurance would be on an entirely different scale.
For instance, an alkaline battery weighing 20 grams has an energy density of 700 Joules/gram, giving a life of 24 hours of continuous usage.
On the other hand, a diamond battery with 1 gram of C-14 will deliver only 15 Joules per day. However, it will continue to produce this level of output for more than 5,730 years—giving a total energy density of 2.7 TeraJoules/gram.