NUST MISIS scientists suggest new “nuclear battery” concept

NUST MISIS scientists have developed a new technology for making “nuclear batteries” with nickel-63 isotopes for various sectors, including healthcare and space research.

The nickel-63 isotope’s properties make it a very convenient basic element for tiny, safe and low-power batteries, also known as beta-voltaic cells, with a long service life of over 50 years. They can be used in pacemakers and also as self-contained power supply sources of space satellites. As nickel-63 does not exist in nature, it is obtained by irradiating nickel-62 isotopes with neutrons inside nuclear reactors. The resulting substance is later subjected to radio-chemical processing and is divided using gas centrifuges.

A group of NUST MISIS scientists led by Professor Yury Parkhomenko, head of its faculty of semiconductor and dielectric materials studies, have developed a technology for making systems that convert the nickel-63 isotope’s beta-radiation energy into electric power on the basis of piezo-electric mono-crystals for use by self-contained AC beta-voltaic cells.

“The use of impulse power sources that accumulate and release electric charges makes it possible to overcome restrictions caused by the low power of beta-voltaic nuclear batteries,” noted Yury Parkhomenko.

Russia is already implementing a project to develop nickel-63 power sources. The project involves several companies under the supervision of the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Integrated Works which is affiliated with the Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Territory. Earlier, it was reported that there are plans to obtain nickel-63 isotopes for this project inside an IRT-T research reactor at the Tomsk Polytechnic University. The Zheleznogorsk Electro-Chemical Plant in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, which is also affiliated with Rosatom, is to manufacture industrial nickel-enrichment equipment.

“The development of NUST MISIS scientists has a huge potential as the demand of such elements with a long-service life is quite high. Tiny, safe and low-power batteries developed at NUST MISIS, also known as beta-voltaic cells, can take a significant share of the similar power source market”, said Alevtina Chernikova, Rector of NUST MISIS.

There are plans to assemble the first prototype “nuclear battery” under this project in 2017.