My boss at summer camp once noted that in 100 years, we haven't really changed how we produce electricity. We are still dependent on the basic turbine designs worked out by Westinghouse and others in the late 19th century. This is not strictly true: we have several other methods of producing electricity, but all of them are either unpractical for large-scale electrical production or hopelessly experimental.
But researchers at the University of Bristol have found a way to turn radioactive graphite - i.e. the control rods used to control the chain reaction in a nuclear reactor - into a long-lasting battery. Theoretically, this battery could last for over 5,000 years without a significant reduction in power. Better still, it doesn't emit radiation or require the burning of fossil fuels or the extraction of mineral resources in order to function as a battery. And all of that nuclear waste (a million tons and growing) can be upcycled for clean energy for 5,000 years.
So...what's the catch?
Well, the battery from a small diamond can only produce 15 Joules of energy a day, or a mere 0.0017 watts. That's enough to power...just about nothing. You would need to string a great deal of them together to be able to power your toaster, let alone a city.
And if you use diamonds for batteries, you're practically begging someone to steal them. I mean, radioactive diamonds that are a reliable powersource for 5,000 years are pretty much a thief's wet dream.
Plus, although there's no leaking radiation, people may not be thrilled about having nuclear control rods in their toaster. Toasting their bread. In between drive-by thievings.
And then there's the issue that a million tons of graphite isn't all that much when compared to the very minuscule amount of electricity produced by a diamond and you realize there will be a massive incentive for creating radioactive fuel rods just to sell as batteries. This could lead to some terrible black markets as people rush their reactor designs to create fuel rods.
Clearly, this technology needs some miniaturization, scalability and good old fashioned unstealability. We may not be driving diamond-powered cars any time soon, let alone powering our toasters with old nuclear control rods.
But, still, it beats using coal-fired plants.
The original article can be read here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cabot/news/2016/diamond-battery.html