By: Aakash Sunkari
Nuclear reactors are a promising source of clean energy due to their high energy output and capacity. Operating on either principles of nuclear fission (“splitting the atom”) or nuclear fusion (“fusing the atom), nuclear reactors are currently the only alternative source of energy that can compete with fossil fuels in the long run – other clean sources of energy are too inefficient, too expensive, or simply don’t produce enough energy. However, the “atomic age” has died – nuclear reactors are too expensive, incredibly large and complex, and are perceived as dangerous by the general public.
My research focuses on developing a portable nuclear reactor – one which is no larger than your average physics textbook – yet can still produce a high amount of energy on the scale of hundreds of megawatts. Using Monte-Carlo simulation methods through the GEANT4 software developed by CERN, I developed a new artificial nuclear reaction to produce high amounts of electrical energy through nuclear reactions on a smaller scale:
The double beta decay isotope 48Ca is used to produce high energy beta particles (4.27 average MeV) and relatively low energy antineutrinos (<0.1 average MeV). These particles have a negative charge. Quantum catalyzation of the isotope is achieved through a Chirped-Pulse Amplification laser, which triggers the Anti-Zeno Effect in 48Ca – allowing it to decay faster and create beta particles at a higher rate. While these beta particles are produced at a high rate, the electrons are directed to a superconducting magnetic energy storage ring, which acts as a “negative” terminal while efficiently storing the energy from the beta particles. This also creates a potential difference between the SMES ring and the 48Ca “core”. The high flux of beta particles creates a current, allowing for the reactor to directly produce electricity. As 48Ca begins to decay into 48Ti, stability is reversed using antineutrino bombardment – this causes inverse beta decay, allowing for the nuclear reaction to be completed again. The overall footprint of the reactor is only 47.85 cubic centimeters, yet has an operating capacity of 250MW and a lifetime of 20 years before needing to refuel.