Radioactive Waste Can Power Long-Lasting Diamond Batteries

A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have created a manmade diamond with electric currents that last longer than the history of human civilization. If you think that's impressive, listen to this: these super diamonds are powered by our nuclear waste.

Why It's Important

Scientists largely agree that nuclear energy has significant advantages over fossil fuels, but finding a way to dispose of nuclear waste has proven to be a big challenge. We have ways of storing it in the short term, but experts are puzzling over the best long-term storage solutions. The big problem is that nuclear fuel stays dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. Countries like Finland, Sweden, France and the U.S. are currently disposing of high-level waste in repositories deep below the earth's surface. But what might smooth this process along? Using that waste for power.

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Why People Are Talking About It

What if we told you that the diamonds in your jewelry could help power satellites in space? We'd be lying—but the artificial diamond described in a 2016 report by the University of Bristol isn't too far from making that scenario a reality. The manmade diamond can generate a small electric current just by being exposed to radioactivity. By encapsulating radioactive elements within the diamond, the scientists were able to make it generate electricity without releasing any dangerous radiation. The scientists first used radioactive nickel-63 for this purpose, but for their next model they're working to use carbon-14—a radioactive version of the very same element diamonds are made of. Carbon-14 is actually found on the outsides of the graphite blocks used in nuclear power plants. By removing the carbon-14 and placing it within the diamonds, they kill two birds with one stone: remove harmful radiation from nuclear waste, and create a battery that lasts a really long time (just to drain to 50% would take 5,7000 years).

Then, before you know it, the diamonds will help us explore space. To dive deeper into the scientific process behind diamond batteries, watch the University of Bristol's video below.

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Written by Curiosity Staff December 16, 2016

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