When you hear about radioactive material you tend to think that it would be best not to go near it. A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol in England don’t quite think that way, though.
The team, in fact, hope to recycle radioactive material from disused nuclear power plants in the South West of England to create diamond battery power — ultra-long-lasting power sources.
Work is already underway
Radioactive waste products are already being removed from the Berkeley Power Station. By removing carbon-14 isotopes from the irradiated graphite, the time and cost of the decommissioning program of the former nuclear power plant could be vastly lowered.
The Berkeley Power Station has been out of use since 1989, and it’s only safe now to start removing its radioactive waste products.
The second nuclear power plant the team has in mind is in Oldbury, which is in its early decommissioning stages. These two sites, amongst others across the U.K., hold huge amounts of irradiated graphite. This graphite holds carbon-14 isotope, the carbon that could be recycled to generate long-lasting power.
Near-infinite duration of power
The researchers from the University of Bristol created a diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, can create an electrical current. Then, by using the carbon-14 isotope, which has a half-life of 5,730 years, a near-infinite amount of power is available.
The work is part of the, Advanced Self-Powered sensor units in Intense Radiation Environments, or ASPIRE, project.
Lead researcher of the project, Professor Tom Scott from the School of Physics said “Over the past few years we have been developing ultra-low powered sensors that harvest energy from radioactive decay. This project is at quite an advanced stage now and we have tested the batteries in sensors in places as extreme as the top of a volcano!”
These batteries could be used in a number of useful environments, such as where conventional power sources can’t be reached, or for certain medical purposes like pacemakers and hearing aids. They could even be used to provide power to spacecraft or satellites.
Professor Scott mentioned “With the majority of the UK’s nuclear power plants set to go offline in the next 10-15 years this presents a huge opportunity to recycle a large amount of material to generate power for so many great uses.”