Pocket-Sized Nuclear Reactors! Russian Scientists Announce Breakthrough in Battery Technology!
Eternal batteries are no longer fiction. Krasnoyarsk scientists have announced a breakthrough in the creation of pocket-sized nuclear reactors.
Let's have a talk with Pavel Toropov to get further details.
— Pavel, are we really talking about the creation of pocket-sized nuclear reactors? How much energy can they produce? And the most important thing — won't it blow up a cell phone if we build it in?
— Vadim, the technology differs from classic nuclear power generation. That's why nuclear batteries are absolutely safe. And just for the record, I want to say that you can't put them in cell phones.
In large nuclear reactors, radioactive decay energy is used to heat up the heat carrier. Water turns to steam which spins the turbines. You can't do that in a small battery. For decades scientists have been thinking about a way to turn radiation into electricity. They've achieved some success. For instance, you can order a working nuclear battery from China or the US. Normally, the isotope irradiates a thermocouple or a photo element inside. That's more like a toy, though. The efficiency of such batteries is about 1%. The amperage is too low for a device to work from it.
The experiments of Russian scientists can make nuclear batteries usable. Our pocket nuclear reactors are based on Nickel-63. The Siberian specialists are the first ones in the history of the nuclear industry to find the material with the degree of enrichment of over 69%. The radioactive Nickel-63 doesn't occur in nature. In order to get it, scientists irradiate Nickel-62 with neutron fluxes and then they carry out a complex process of enrichment. But it's worth it. The isotope-63 has a unique characteristic, it radiates only beta particles, electrons. That's what the so-called beta voltaic effect is based on. If you place a metal layer next to a semiconductor, the crystal starts, so to speak, to absorb electrons. That leads to a weak electric current at the p–n junction. The more nickel-semiconductor layers are, the better the battery is. One of its significant advantages is that beta radiation is easy to screen out. That's why if you put the power source in the right case, it will be absolutely safe.
Pyotr Lagov, semiconductor physics professor: «Nickel-63 radiates low-energy electrons, 17 keV on average. These electrons have so-called subthreshold atom displacement energy. Meaning, they can't remove atoms from the lattice node and result in a defect. It's safe in terms of nuclear decay. It's practically safe for people. Something about the level of a television tube».
The Russian nuclear battery already has a working prototype. It's based on Nickel with the enrichment level of 20%. According to calculations, such a power source can work for, just imagine, 50 years. The voltage is two volts, the output power is 1 microwatt. That's enough energy for a heart pacemaker. The current-voltage characteristics of the device are to improve in the future by using high-enriched isotopes.
There's one problem though. The process of production and enrichment of Nickel-63 is very expensive. Experts say, one gram of the metal can cost up to several thousand dollars. Meaning, we won't have nuclear batteries in our calculators and smartphones. At least, in the foreseeable future. They are expected to be used in medicine or aerospace equipment, where the power source lifetime is crucial.