Nuclear energy is carbon free, which makes it an attractive and practical alternative to fossil fuels, as it doesn’t contribute to global warming. It’s nuclear waste that makes fission bad for the environment. The typical nuclear power plant creates about 2,300 tons of waste annually.?That’s a lot of waste per year. However, just like anything else, this waste is vulnerable to natural disasters, human error, even terrorism. How to dispose of nuclear waste is one of the great technical challenges of the 21st century. So what can be done? Researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK have a solution. They have found a way to convert thousands of tons of seemingly worthless nuclear waste into man-made diamond batteries that can provide a clean energy supply lasting in some cases, thousands of years. The newly developed method turns radioactive graphite blocks, a waste product of nuclear reactors, into artificial diamonds that generate electricity.?The researchers said there were no emissions, and zero concerns about safety. Here is the explanation in a nutshell: nuclear reactors generate heat from highly radioactive uranium rods. The rods are placed in blocks of graphite to control the heat flow and nuclear reactions.?After years of absorbing nuclear radiation, the graphite blocks become highly radioactive as well. When nuclear power plants are decommissioned, they have to dispose of?the graphite blocks.
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.?This diamond has some cool properties. Because of its radioactive nature, it can generate a small electric current. This requires no moving parts or maintenance, and can last for thousands of years without needing to be replaced.
The current is too small to power your smartphone, but it could be used for small applications where it is difficult or impossible to replace a battery.
But let’s not get carried away. The concept of a “diamond battery” is, at this point, a theoretical idea and it is one that comes with myriad challenges not yet discussed enough.