As we know, nuclear energy creates electricity by generating heat that boils water that turns turbines – if you want to be really simple about it. But suppose you could get electricity from nuclear energy directly:
Now, University of Missouri researchers are developing an energy conversion system that uses relatively safe isotopes to generate high-grade energy. A system that directly converts nuclear energy into electricity would be cheaper than current nuclear conversion technology.
Well, we’ll see about cheaper – researchers are always making claims to justify their work. But it is pretty interesting:
MU researchers have developed a process called Radioisotope Energy Conversion System (RECS). In the first step of the process, the ion energy from radioisotopes is transported to an intermediate photon generator called a fluorescer and produces photons, which are the basic units of light. In the second step of the process, the photons are transported out of the fluorescer to photovoltaic cells, which efficiently convert the photon energy into electricity.
And that’s the premise. So the question then becomes, Can this be done on a much larger scale and in a sustained way? The story doesn’t directly say – they may not know for sure – but this provides a hint:
"RECS effectively utilizes the PIDEC [Photon-Intermediate Direct Energy Conversion] system," [professor of nuclear engineering Mark] Prelas said. "The system we are developing is mechanically simple, potentially leading to more compact, more reliable and less expensive systems."
If you can’t scale the system up, in other words, scale the plant down. Well, that would be cheaper and more compact – but since the nuclear industry as it stands has a remarkable uptime rate, we’ll wait on vetting “more reliable.”
We have no brief on this system. Lots of academic research comes to fruition, lots more does not. So it’s best to be sanguine when you read stories about marvelous new technology. After all, tomorrow comes soon enough, and we’ll hear more about this if there will be more to be heard.
But if you happen to be around Missouri University on April 22, stop by for the Missouri Energy Summit, where Prelas and his crew will be showing off their research. NRC chairman Dale Klein, wind king T. Boone Pickens and many others are also scheduled to speak.
This is how you create electricity in the futuristic world of Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis (1927). We’re not entirely sure how repositioning clock hands does this, but we do know that if you stop, everything goes boom.