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nuclear battery


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A single cell, or battery of cells, in which the energy of particles emitted from the atomic nucleus is converted internally into electrical energy. In the high-voltage type, a beta-emitter, such as strontium–90, krypton–85, or tritium, is sealed into a shielded glass vessel, the electrons being collected on an electrode that is separated from the emitter by a vacuum or by a solid dielectric. A typical cell delivers some 160 picoamperes at a voltage proportional to the load resistance. It can be used to maintain the voltage of a charged capacitor. Of greater use, especially in space technology, are the various types of low-voltage nuclear batteries. Typical is the gas-ionization device in which a beta-emitter ionizes a gas in an electric field. Each beta-particle produces about 200 ions, thus multiplying the current. The electric field is obtained by the contact potential difference between two electrodes, such as lead dioxide and magnesium. Such a cell, containing argon and tritium, gives about 1.6 nanoamperes at 1.5 volts. Other types use light from a phosphor receiving the beta-particles to operate photocells or heat from the nuclear reaction to operate a thermopile.

Subjects: Physics.


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