WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Nuclear waste is normally buried beneath ground and left forever, this new breakthrough gives nuclear processing companies a new option and a new revenue stream.
Researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a method to turn radioactive graphite blocks, a waste product of nuclear reactors, into artificial diamonds that generate electricity. The diamonds produce a small current that could last for thousands of years and such long-lived diamond batteries could be used to power spacecraft, implants such as pacemakers, and in other areas where long battery life is crucial.
Nuclear reactors generate heat from highly radioactive uranium rods which are placed in blocks of graphite to control the heat flow and nuclear reactions and after years of absorbing nuclear radiation, the graphite blocks become highly radioactive as well. So, when nuclear power plants are decommissioned, they have to dispose of the graphite blocks as well.
The researchers realized they could heat the carbon blocks, which causes the radioactive carbon to turn into a gas, this gas is then collected and compressed to form a diamond and it turned out that is had some cool properties. Because of its radioactive nature, it can generate a small electric current and no moving parts means no maintenance and, even better they can last for thousands of years without needing to be replaced.
While the current is too small to power your smartphone it could be used for small applications where it is difficult or impossible to replace a battery and with so many nuclear reactors out in the world there’d be a guaranteed supply for generations to come.