A revolutionary “diamond battery” could transform thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste in the UK into a source of clean power, according to scientists.
Researchers at Bristol University are developing the battery from radioactive carbon which can help generate energy for more than 5,000 years.
In the UK, waste graphite from decommissioned nuclear power plants amounts to nearly 95,000 tonnes.
But scientists can now extract radioactive carbon from the waste, reducing its radioactivity and the cost of storage.
“By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy,” said Tom Scott, professor in materials at Bristol.
The batteries could be used in devices for which recharging is not feasible.
“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,” Scott added.
The team’s battery is made out of carbon-14, a radioactive material formed in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants.
Once extracted, the carbon is used to form a radioactive diamond encased in another non-radioactive carbon diamond.
Diamonds can generate electricity in radioactive fields, meaning the battery can provide a long-term supply of clean energy.
The team has already demonstrated a prototype diamond battery using Nickel-63, but researchers said carbon-14 will make a more effective radiation source.
“Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material,” said Dr Neil Fox from Bristol.
“This would make it dangerous to ingest or touch with your naked skin, but safely held within diamond, no short-range radiation can escape.
“In fact, diamond is the hardest substance known to man, there is literally nothing we could use that could offer more protection.”
The team is now asking the public to come up with suggestions for the technology using #diamondbattery.