Using Diamonds to Generate Electricity from Nuclear Waste
Kyle Maxey posted on November 29, 2016 |
Could diamonds be the world’s best friend? A new technique for energy generation seems to say “Yes.”
Engineers from the University of Bristol have discovered a novel technique for generating electricity from nuclear waste using diamonds.

Engineers from the University of Bristol have discovered a novel technique for generating electricity from nuclear waste using diamonds.

Since the dawn of the Atomic age, the question of what to do with nuclear waste has puzzled scientists and engineers. On the one hand, nuclear waste is a highly toxic slurry of elements that has to be contained. On the other hand, nuclear waste’s components can be recycled for a number of different industrial purposes.

With that caustic duality in mind, researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a method for safely containing nuclear waste while simultaneously transforming that waste into a valuable energy source.

According to recently published research, engineers and physicists at the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute have grown a man-made diamond that, when exposed to a radioactive field will, generate a small electrical current.

“There are no moving parts involved [in the diamond generator], no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” said Tom Scott of the Cabot Institute.  “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.”

One of the catalysts driving this research is the growing amount of nuclear waste that’s being plumbed from the UK’s first-generation nuclear reactors. As these plants are taken offline, the carbon-14-rich graphite blocks that were used to control the fission reaction at the plant’s core have to be disposed of properly. While it’s always possible to bury these blocks in cement casings, that solution doesn’t show a tremendous amount of environmental, economic or humanitarian foresight.

However, Bristol’s diamond solution might prove to be a better solution.

“Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material,” explained Neil Fox of the University of Bristol school of chemistry. “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.”

And while researchers admit that their diamond electricity generator only produces a tiny bit of power, 1 gram of encased carbon-14 would generate 15 Joules of electricity per day, the system has quite a half-life. In fact, carbon-14 based generators could run 24/7 for 5,730 days before they reach 50 percent power. Over that time the number of Joules produced by the diamond machine would amount to quite a lot of electricity.

For an alternative approach to dealing with nuclear waste, read about immobilizing radioactive waste in glass.

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