Hooray for nuclear batteries...


Seriously. As long as…

Hooray for nuclear batteries... /img/nuclear-battery.jpg

In the summer of 2018, Wired reports, some vulcanologists sent a robot right inside the erupting volcano of Stromboli, powered by “microdoses of nuclear energy from a radioactive battery the size of a square of chocolate”.

Such nuclear batteries can last for thousands of years without ever being charged or replaced. In principle, one of them could “power an electronic device for longer than humans have had written language.” And now, says Wired, some of these batteries may “hit the market by 2024 - just don’t expect to find them in your laptop”.

The reason is that these batteries are all about producing tiny amounts of power for a long time. Not enough to power a smartphone, but “small devices, for millennia”.

Consequently, for the moment the only foreseable use cases of these batteries are applications where it is either impossible or impractical to regularly change a battery, such as sensors in remote or hazardous locations at nuclear waste repositories or on satellites.

Eventually, however, developers envision a future in which “people keep their batteries and swap out devices, rather than the other way around”.

Where is the problem here?

The instinctive reaction of many people to the idea of radioactive batteries that last practically forever is, unsurprisingly, “I don’t want any of that stuff anywhere near me!!!” The developers interviewed by Wired say that this is much less a problem than it may seem. To me, the issue is almost irrelevant.

What I am concerned about is not being poisoned by radioactive batteries. It is the potential, non-radioactive but additional pollution and health hazards caused by the production of billions of tiny devices that would be almost impossible to collect and recycle. A production that would made possible exactly, and onlym by the availability of nuclear batteries.

I am not concerned about radiation by tiny batteries. I am concerned about tons of dumb objects like NOT-smart dust coming around me thanks to those batteries.

So, OK to nuclear batteries as long as…

  1. They are only used for stuff that is actually useful, not idiotic gadgets
  2. Their design is open, to make it possible, for the same reason why small, modular, OPEN-design reactors may be good
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