Work has begun at Berkeley power station in Gloucestershire to remove radioactive waste products from the site as part of its decommissioning programme. To try and reduce the time and cost of this operation, a team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol hope to recycle material from the irradiated graphite to generate ultra long-lasting power sources.
Nuclear waste removal at Berkeley and Oldbury
Berkeley power station was decommissioned in 1989 and it has only just become safe to start removing radioactive waste products from the plant. These are currently stored in concrete vaults eight metres underground and require specialist equipment to retrieve and process securely.
The second nuclear station on the bank of the River Severn is Oldbury, which stopped producing electricity in 2012. This site completed defuelling in 2016 and is now in the early decommissioning phase.
These two sites, as well as the reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset and other decommissioned sites across the UK, hold vast amounts of irradiated graphite that hold the Carbon-14 isotope that could be recycled to generate power.
Diamond batteries to use waste for power
The University of Bristol researchers have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current. By using Carbon-14 which has a half-life of 5730 years, the batteries could potentially provide power on a near-infinite basis.
This suggests potential applications for medical purposes such as ultra-long lasting batteries for hearing aids or pacemakers. It could even be possible to power spacecraft or satellites for much further travel than is currently possible. It is less likely that diamond batteries could be used for consumer products such as mobile phones, due to the power requirements of these devices, and is not the main focus for this project.
The ultimate aim is to have a factory based at one of the former power stations in the South West that takes Carbon-14 isotopes directly from the graphite blocks for use in diamond batteries. This would significantly reduce the radioactivity of the remaining material, making it easier and safer to manage.
Professor Tom Scott from the University of Bristol's School of Physics appeared on BBC Radio Bristol [listen from 2:06:38-2:12:42] and also BBC Points West explaining the diamond battery technology. You can watch this BBC clip in full below:
Advanced Nuclear Technologies in the South West
This technology is a strong example of the research and innovation being developed in the South West region, the home to the only nuclear new build project in the UK.
Watch our video below that outlines our vision for the region as the nuclear sector continues to grow, and the opportunities available for the South West.