We may be on the verge of a new paradigm for nuclear energy, a group of nuclear specialists recently suggested in The Bridge, the journal of the National Academy of Engineering. Although large, expensive, centralized computers gave way to today's widely distributed PCs, a new generation of relatively small and inexpensive factory-manufactured reactors is in sight, designed for autonomous plug and play operation similar to connecting a large battery, they say. These proposed systems could provide heat for industrial processes or electricity for a military base or neighborhood, operate unattended for five to 10 years, and then be trucked back to the factory for refueling and renovation. The Strategic Command has called these small power plants “nuclear batteries”.Because of their simplicity of operation, nuclear batteries could play an important role in decarbonizing the world's electrical systems to prevent catastrophic climate change.
This concept of a nuclear battery is really different due to the physical scale and power output of these machines, of about 10 megawatts. It is so small that the entire power plant is built in a factory and fits inside a standard container. This provides several benefits from an economic point of view. Deploying these nuclear batteries does not involve managing a large construction site, which has been the main source of program delays and cost overruns for nuclear projects over the past 20 years.
The nuclear battery deploys rapidly, say in a few weeks, and becomes a kind of on-demand energy service. To improve safety, these nuclear batteries would be located below ground level, to provide an additional level of protection against an attack force. Now there are half a dozen companies developing their own designs. For example, Westinghouse is working on a nuclear battery that uses heat pipe technology for cooling and plans to run a demonstration unit in three years. This would be a pilot plant in one of the national laboratories, for example, the Idaho National Laboratory, which has a number of facilities that are being modified to accommodate these small reactors and perform intensive testing on them. For example, the reactor can be subjected to more extreme conditions than would ever be encountered in normal operation, and by doing so, demonstrate by direct testing that failure limits are not exceeded.
That provides confidence for the later phase of a generalized commercial installation. These nuclear batteries are ideal for building resilience in all sectors of the economy, providing a stable and reliable source of carbon-free electricity and heat that can be located right where their production is needed, thus reducing the need for costly and delicate energy transmission and storage infrastructure. If they are generalized as much as we imagine, they could make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the world. NDB has done extensive research to ensure that its batteries are safe enough to be used in products such as phones and cars. In many ways, NDB batteries produce no harmful emissions or radiation. Nuclear batteries composed of nearly indestructible diamonds are probably safer than lithium-ion batteries, which are known to explode and catch fire.
However, the power density of the radioactive source is lower the farther it is from the semiconductor. In addition to this, because beta particles are emitted randomly in all directions, only a small amount of them will impact the semiconductor, and only a small amount of them will be converted to electricity. This means that nuclear batteries are much less efficient than other types of batteries. This is where polycrystalline diamond (PCD) comes into play. Beta particles contain nuclear energy that can be converted into electrical energy through a semiconductor.
Professor Tom Scott, a researcher at the University of Bristol, told Nuclear Energy Insider that: “By removing Carbon-14 from irradiated graphite directly from the reactor, the remaining waste products would be less radioactive and therefore easier to manage and dispose of”.According to Iain MacDonald, also co-founder of ANPEG: “The nuclear battery is a fundamental energy advance both in form and function, changing the way the public and stakeholders perceive nuclear energy and the difference from all other energy sources in their ability to address adaptation to climate change and the standard of living in a single clean system”.This cost and program are orders of magnitude smaller than those of traditional large nuclear power plants, which easily cost billions and take between five years and a decade to build. One day soon, a battery revolution will come with an unlikely combination of nuclear waste and diamonds. Nuclear energy is considered a clean energy source because it has zero carbon dioxide emissions; however at the same time it must be handled with extreme caution due to its potential risks. And yet with proper safety measures in place it can provide us with an efficient source of energy with minimal environmental impact. Nuclear batteries have been designed with safety as their top priority. They have been engineered with multiple layers of protection against radiation leakage or any other potential hazards.
The reactor core itself is encased in strong steel containment structures which protect it from any external threats or accidents. Additionally they have been designed with decay mechanisms which ensure that when they run out of power they decay into stable states leaving no nuclear waste behind. In conclusion we can see that while there are some potential risks associated with nuclear batteries they have been designed with safety as their top priority. With proper safety measures in place they can provide us with an efficient source of energy with minimal environmental impact.