Tiny nuclear battery


27 Responses to “Tiny nuclear battery”

  1. JAy says:

    Very interesting article and even more interesting/intelligent comments (for the most part). No trolls, what a refreshing change.

  2. amuderick says:

    @Zan – You are right that nuclear powered pacemakers never really caught on. Chemical battery technology and other efficiencies made them unneeded. They were NRC licensed devices which meant that, upon death, someone would track down your body and cut it out to ensure proper disposal ;-)

    You are wrong about this ‘sixth most toxic material’ nonsense. Where did you come up with that? Usually plutonium is called ‘most toxic’ but that is still BS. Toxicity doesn’t neatly rank into some kind of Letterman Top Ten list. It depends on form, quantity, kind, etc.

    Plutonium does not burst into flames in contact with air. Sorry.

    If you understood how nuclear batteries work, you would know that there are many different isotopes that can power them.

    I’ll bet this one uses Nickel-63. It is available from spent nuclear fuel (currently garbage…so it is cheap as far as radioactive stuff goes), has no chemical toxicity in the body (not a heavy metal), has a nice 92 year half life (not too long, not too short on a human timescale), and is a pure beta emitter (when it decays, you get an electron…convenient for generating electricity!), and it decays directly into Copper-63 which is stable (no messy leftovers).

    You would also know that chemicals like plutonium and uranium are more dangerous to the body because they are heavy metals…not because they are radioactive.

    All that said, I’ll betcha this never goes anywhere. Sensors that can generate power from ambient vibration, daily temperature shifts, or small lithium cells will fit the bill moving forward.

    Too bad, cause it is neat.

  3. Joe says:

    AirPillo, you’re confusing beta with alpha. Alpha particles can’t penetrate a piece of paper, though you can still get lung cancer if you inhale an alpha emitter. But a beta particle (high energy electron) can penetrate a few inches of wood.

  4. treq says:

    @ Zan, amuderick:

    I have on pretty good authority that one of the US’s largest manufacturers of implant devices is actively researching and prototyping new nuclear battery packs for upcoming models, so at least from that perspective, this work is more relevant than it may seem otherwise.

  5. Baron Karza says:

    Wow, I’m putting some in my next generation Iron Man armor right away! Thanks!

  6. Doug says:

    I have a key fob called a “Traser Glowring” that contains a tiny amount of tritium (H2 isotope) gas in a phosphor-coated glass tube encased in plastic. It creates a glow which, though dim, is quite visible in the dark. The tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years. I have heard of ideas based on this (tritium -> phosphors -> micro-photovoltaics) to create long-lasting batteries for very small loads. Tritium is ideal since it is a low-level beta emitter (easily shielded against) and, if the container is broken, it disperses harmlessly into the atmosphere.

  7. Sam says:

    Uh, has anyone else noticed what looks like a little crack in the top left?..

  8. FoetusNail says:

    Have they also figured out how to dispose of a few billion of these little radioactive pills?

  9. taghag says:

    i’d rather have this i my iron man armour:
    it’s a battery made from from algae cellulose!

  10. Daemon says:

    And they’ve almost figured out how to eliminate the problems with surgically implanted lead shielding!

  11. AirPillo says:

    Finally a way to slim down those nasty, heavy Fission Batteries for the railway rifle!

  12. damjancd says:

    anyone thinking about Isaac Asimov’s foundations books?

  13. MayorAwesome says:

    “University of Missouri engineers are building a nuclear batter the size of a penny. ” Are they gonna make cupcakes with that batter?

  14. Bacu says:

    There should be a compromise between amount of radioactive material (safety issues) used in such batteries and effectiveness (live length and power output)

  15. malex says:

    Nuclear Batter is my band name for today.

  16. AirPillo says:

    Oh shoot, I did mix up alpha and beta. I should know better, too.

    Well, time to go dig out my textbooks and do some review!

  17. Zan says:

    Saying that nuclear batteries are “relatively common” in powering pacemakers is misleading: no nuclear pacemakers have been made since the mid 1980s, and as of 2005 only a handful were still in operation.

    Assuming that these are miniaturized RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators), since that is what powers nuclear pacemakers and spacecraft, there is still a big problem: Plutonium-238. First of all, Plutonium is the sixth most toxic material known to man. Second, it bursts into flame when it contacts air, spreading around fine radioactive dust. Third, and most important, we are quickly running out of it.

    The US has not produced plutonium since 1988, and plans to build a new breeder reactor in 2005 were scrapped. Our remaining stockpiles are already spoken for to power three upcoming space missions, but when that’s gone it’s gone. See http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113223613.

    Yes, there were other nuclear batteries that weren’t plutonium based, such as Promethium-147, but the half-life of promethium is only 2.6 years, giving a lifespan comparable with lithium batteries.

    • Brainspore says:

      Are you sure they don’t still use that expensive, unstable and highly toxic stuff for pacemakers? I can’t think of a more fitting substance for powering Cheney.

  18. Anonymous says:

    In response to Zan, the isotope they are using is NOT plutonium it’s “sulfur-35 isotope”. I’m not a nuclear physists, but perhaps this addresses your issue.

  19. Jsebesta says:

    Can anyone tell me what applications a nuclear battery can be used in a car company?

  20. b says:

    Sounds like our first opportunity to BOYCOTT NUCLEAR WASTE

  21. AirPillo says:

    Meh, if it’s a pure beta emitter your own skin is overkill to shield the radiation, iirc you can pretty much shield beta radiation with a business card.

  22. Digger12 says:


    What treehugger site did you get your “facts” from? Plutonium does not combust in open air. And please don’t quote NPR; they usually are half-right when it comes to these kinds of things.

  23. Robin Goodfellow says:

    As amuderick points out, these miniature nuclear batteries are not RTGs. They simply can’t be, at that size. Nuclear batteries of this sort use tiny amounts of beta emitting radionuclides. Beta radiation is merely electrons, which can be absorbed and used to generate a tiny electrical current. Note that these are very low power batteries, their main advantage is that they produce a steady current for decades.

  24. Anonymous says:

    the possibility of nuclear battery for heavy transportation vehicles, i.e. municipal solid waste trucks and public buses???
    Does it exist, does it function?? This would mean a life log lasting battery not needing recharge.
    Norway Calling!!

Leave a Reply