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Penny-Sized Nuclear Batteries Developed 444

pickens writes "Nuclear batteries that produce energy from the decay of radioisotopes are an attractive proposition for many applications because the isotopes that power them can provide a useful amount of current for hundreds of years at power densities a million times as high as standard batteries. Nuclear batteries have been used for military and aerospace applications for years, their large size has limited their general usage. But now a research team at the University of Missouri has developed a nuclear battery the size of a penny that could be used to power micro- and nano-electromechanical systems. The researchers' innovation is not only in the battery's size, but also that the batteries use a liquid semiconductor rather than a solid semiconductor. 'The critical part of using a radioactive battery is that when you harvest the energy, part of the radiation energy can damage the lattice structure of the solid semiconductor,' says Jae Wan Kwon. 'By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem.' The batteries are safe under normal operating conditions. 'People hear the word "nuclear" and think of something very dangerous,' says Kwon. 'However, nuclear power sources have already been safely powering a variety of devices, such as pacemakers, space satellites, and underwater systems.'"
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Penny-Sized Nuclear Batteries Developed

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @09:36AM (#29691665)

    With battery disposal?

    Sure, the "nuclear" bit of a nuclear battery may be have enormous power potential, but batteries will wear out much sooner due to corrosion and other practical issues.

    Disposing ordinary batteries in a safe and environmentaly friendly manner is already considered to be a big pain in the ass. Now imagine that instead of corroding, toxic, acid-leaking batteries we have to deal with corroding, radioactive, nuclear-fuel-leaking batteries.

  • Re:Cars??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @09:37AM (#29691667)
    Haha, yeah. Until Joe Public hears the word "nuclear" and shits a brick.
  • Ya Ok.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drewsup ( 990717 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @09:42AM (#29691761)
    Just don't let Sony make them.. imagine the fireworks then!
  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @09:45AM (#29691825) Homepage Journal

    Battery disposal is the first thing that comes to mind (as well as the "idiot throwing one into a fire" that come up above these comments), however if you create batteries that last A LOT longer, doesn't disposal become *less* of a problem? It doesn't go away, but if the batteries last as long as advertised doesn't it mean we need a lot less space to store the waste (but the waste might be a heck of a lot more toxic)?

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @09:47AM (#29691853)

    Which isn't all that much better with other kinds of batteries.

    It's one thing to clean up after someone drilled a hole in a Lithium battery and had it flame up.

    It's another to decontaminate the livingroom, car, Starbucks counter the guy stopped at for his coffee, etc, because he got liquid radioactive semiconductor on his fingers and wiped it on his pants.


  • Re:Cars??? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Robin47 ( 1379745 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @09:48AM (#29691867)
    Recharge? How do you recharge a battery that depends on the decay of radioisotopes?
  • Re:Cars??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jarik C-Bol ( 894741 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @09:51AM (#29691933)
    i was thinking more along the lines of a bios battery that will last until the next ice age.
  • Re:ohhhhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by radtea ( 464814 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @09:56AM (#29692007)

    "Iran has so much oil, why would they care about nuclear energy?"

    For the same reason Canada does.

    Canada has almost as much oil as Iran and has a large civil nuclear power program. Here in Ontario we get about half our electricity from nuclear power, despite all that oil in Alberta and elsewhere.

    So anyone bringing this point up about Iran is just demonstrating their complete ignorance of the world, and disqualifying themselves from being taken seriously regarding American foreign policy.

  • Re:ohhhhh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:03AM (#29692133)

    Having said that, I still think that Iran's program is to make a bomb...

          Nahh, having a bomb is really a fringe benefit. Pakistan has bombs, North Korea has bombs, and it doesn't stop those countries from being shit-holes. Having a bomb does not immediately confer upon you God-like abilities. Though it does tend to make warmongering politicians pause a little.

        Iran would rather have our wealth by maximizing sale of crude, and keep on exporting oil. Hell when oil was at $150/bbl I think every country in the world was seriously thinking about building a nuclear reactor. And the Iranians were probably crying at all the "lost profits" due to domestic consumption.

          Of course, the American president has just won the peace prize. So if he says it's ok to attack Iran, that must make it ok.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:09AM (#29692243)

    Yeah, this isn't even close to accurate. Nuclear chain-reactions only occur under a very specific set of conditions, and some guy with a sledgehammer doesn't come close to qualifying.

    I know you were half joking and not entirely serious, but it's this sort of ignorance that the idiotic population cling to as an argument not to use nuclear power, thereby holding us back for decades in using a plentiful, clean, and efficient source of power.

    Of course, the same idiots that hate the pollution produced by coal power plants also hate nuclear. These idiots expect us to be gathering fart power across the globe and funneling it into a wind turbine to produce CLEAN ENERGY.

    Oh wait, farts = methane = greenhouse gas. Can't use that then. Try harder next time, you stupid scientists! Meet my impossible demands whilst I rant and rave incoherently with the liberal arts degree I dropped out of because it was too hard!

  • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:13AM (#29692293) Homepage Journal

    'However, nuclear power sources have already been safely powering a variety of devices, such as pacemakers, space satellites, and underwater systems.'"

    If this quote even reaches only one anti-nuclear nutjob and opens their eyes, just a little, to the benefits that nuclear energy can provide when handled safely and appropriately, then the world will be a slightly better place. This message needs to get spread around and stated by every single physicist, engineer, mathematician, and wrench monkey that works in any field associated with nuclear energy. It needs to be stated in every single press conference, peer-reviewed journal, and twitter feed by anyone talking about the subject that has any authority. Simply by throwing this short little blip into his discussion, Jae Wan Kwon has already earned more respect in my eyes than Michio Kaku...

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:13AM (#29692301)

    I got modded "funny" for proposing a scenario where a guy contaminates everything he touches because he disassembled one of these types of battery.

    They found traces of Po210 *everywhere* in the case of Litvinenko, even on the plane the assassin flew in. The assassin was trained in how to handle Po210 so he wouldn't kill himself yet he left traces of Po210 all the way from Moscow.

    I know there are Po210 based anti-static brushes that professional photographers use. These are sealed, and your typical mouthbreather isn't likely to buy one or even know it exists.

    These researchers would like to see these in consumer level devices and don't expect someone to take one of these apart? Naive at best. Get out of the flippin' lab once in a while, guys.


  • Re:Cars??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:21AM (#29692467)
    Yep, I'm old enough to remember when an MRI scan was a NMR (Nuclear magnetic resonance) scan. The marketroids changed that as soon as the scans were out of the lab.
  • Re:Cars??? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fincan ( 989293 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:27AM (#29692601)

    So lets scale these up and replace the power pakcs on cars!

    I would love to be able to drive for a few hundred years between recharges!

    Screw the car, I want this on my next laptop.

  • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:28AM (#29692627)
    You mean like the small chip of Americium 231 in smoke detectors?

    Or the Thorium in Coleman lantern mantels?

    Or Radium/ Tritium in watch dials?
  • Nuclear fear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:39AM (#29692815)

    Nuclear materials usually are not very dangerous for their nuclear properties. For most nuclear materials your skin is all the protection you need. You can get irradiated if you ingest it, which is how Nuclear medicines intnetionally work. But in many cases nuclear materials like Plutonium are more toxic as chemicals then they are dangerous as radioactive materials. You would not intentionally eat battery acid either, and evidently people don't do it accidentally very often either. The death rate from plutonium ingestion would presumably be about the same as the death rate from people ingesting car batteries.

    The upside of nuclear materials is that unlike trace chemical contamination, which is hard to find and hard to clean up (e.g. think ancient leaking service station gas tanks contaminating well water), nuclear contamination is easy to find, easy to trace and easy to know when you have cleaned it all up.

    would a single hundred year nuclear battery be less harmful to the enviroment or humans than a hundred years of mercury cadmium telluride hearing aid batteries and all the waste products to mine, produce and transport them?

  • Re:ohhhhh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:43AM (#29692905)

    it didn't help that a large chunk of their refineries got blown up in the Iraq-Iran war

    The Iraq-Iran war [wikipedia.org] was over 20 years ago. They could have rebuilt their refining capabilities by now had they chosen to do so.

  • Re:ohhhhh... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by faffod ( 905810 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:54AM (#29693097)
    Put yourself in their shoes. You have a super power that has repeatedly made belligerent comments about you. That same super power decided it didn't like your neighbor and overthrew their government. Now imagine the roles were reversed. Lets say that Russia went in and overthrew the government of Honduras, all while making noises about not liking the USA. What would the USA do? (Hint, it was called the cold war and we built up an nuclear arsenal).
    I might not care for the regime that is in place, but placing sanctions and talking about going to war with them means that they need electricity and to shore up their defenses.
  • Re:ohhhhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:34AM (#29693775)

    Oh I agree. Having a bomb-making capability is certainly a fringe benefit. However in today's energy-starved world, nuclear power makes sense for ANY nation, and ESPECIALLY for an oil exporting nation. Because if they end up consuming their own exports, what ELSE are they going to export? Sand? Dates?

    There is a valid argument for a nuclear powered Iran without even considering nuclear weapons. But, as you said, having some would certainly be a bonus.

  • Re:Foundation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:40AM (#29693869) Homepage Journal

    One of the things that always stuck out at me was the mini nuclear batteries in the Foundation series of books. I had just assumed such things were impossible

    But you had no problem with faster than light travel?

  • Re:Cars??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jcochran ( 309950 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @12:49PM (#29695047)

    ... saying that Chernobyl only happened because of stupidity doesn't make the problem go away. In fact, if Chernobyl failed because of some technical flaw that would actually be easier to fix. Human stupidity isn't. If nuclear plants start proliferating in third world countries, the chance of another Chernobyl becomes likely.

    Then I guess you should rejoice. Chernobyl failed due to a technical flaw that allowed human stupidity to cause the melt down. The flaw was fundemental to Chernobyl's design. Chernobyl was a graphite moderated reactor. In a nutshell, this meant that the reaction would continue at full speed even with a loss of cooling. Due to this hazard, that design was banned in the West long before Chernobyl happened. The reactors used in the western world were typically light water reactors. With these reactors, a loss of cooling water in the core would cause the primary reaction to slow down and stop. There would still be secondary reactions caused by the further decay of isotopes created by the primary reaction. And these secondary reactions could generate enough heat to damage the core, but not nearly to the extent that happened in Chernobyl.

    Finally, designs have gotten simplier and better since then.

  • Re:ohhhhh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @04:48PM (#29698359) Homepage

    They misspoke or were written down wrong. Six orders of magnitude more power density than chemical batteries wouldn't be a battery. It'd be a bomb. Further evidence toward a mistake is that they were just talking about "high energy density".

    Why do so many people confuse energy and power?

  • Re:ohhhhh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the_arrow ( 171557 ) on Sunday October 11, 2009 @09:31PM (#29714733) Homepage

    Not to long ago they didn't have any capacity to build any nuclear facilities, now they have plenty of capacity. If they managed to get from zero to nuclear power in such a short term, why can't they get their oil industry back on line again? I doubt everyone knowing anything about oil refinery have fled the country, or died in the war with Iraq.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?