Since gamma radiation consists of photons, just like visible light does, albeit on a different frequency, isn't there a plausible way that in, say, 200 years into the future, we could harness the power of Gamma radiation? If yes, what would the hypothetical methods be, granted the same amount and proportion of natural resources that are present as on Earth?

If plausible please use science where you can. If this is physically impossible, please back that up as well.

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    $\begingroup$ Please consider reality-check if you want to be clear you are willing to accept well documented "no" as an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    May 10, 2017 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ To Joe's point, we can use it today this very moment, by using the gamma radiation to heat a large block of lead and using that thermal energy to do work. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    May 10, 2017 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ Can be done. There's no reason to do it right now because the available energy in the form of gamma radiation is infinitesimal compared to other sources, but there's no technological hurdle preventing it. You might have even been able to do it in the steam age! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    May 10, 2017 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon This Train is powered by a blue stone that makes the air taste of iron and my teeth hurt! $\endgroup$ May 10, 2017 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Importantly, why? There are lots more photons of a less energetic nature, and they're much easier to work with. This is like harnessing angry hippos to plow your fields, while ignoring the so much more numerous and placid water buffalo. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    May 10, 2017 at 21:06

2 Answers 2


Yes, it's been tried.

Hashizume et al. attempted to use semiconductors (variants of which are also used in normal solar cells) which were subjected to gamma radiation from a radioactive isotope of cobalt. They generated up to 0.2 Watts/meter² — certainly not a lot. The energy conversion efficiency? 1%. Furthmore, the cells were, as the authors put it, "unstable". However, none of this means that this method won't work — it just won't be very effective in the near future.

For comparison, solar cells can generate energy at about 25% efficiency, and solar irradiance is orders of magnitude higher than what was generated by these gamma-ray semiconductors (1361 Watts/meter²). These devices won't be widespread any time soon.

I suppose you could try to use something like a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which produces heat via radioactive decay and then converts that heat into energy. However . . .

  • These devices avoid gamma radiation because it is too energetic.
  • You'd need materials more radioactive than normal to generate the required gamma rays.
  • Nuclear power is not wholly popular as is. You'd have to convince a lot of people that the whole setup is safe in order to deploy it on a large scale.

Jan Dvorak suggested essentially surrounding a reactor with electricity-generating semiconductor cells sensitive to gamma rays, which would both generate electricity and perhaps provide some radiation shielding. It's an interesting thought, and could certainly work. I do wonder what the irradiation would be at different points within the reactor chamber.

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    $\begingroup$ If you get a gamma generator at a decent efficiency, you could wrap it around the reactors in a regular fusion plant. I'm not sure if it would be more than just a drop in the ocean, but if it works as a radiation shield, it's still a win. $\endgroup$ May 10, 2017 at 20:29


In modern fission reactors a small amount of the energy released is Gamma radiation. It is captured by the reactor shielding and contributes to the overall heating of the system.

If you had a highly active gamma source the same could be done to heat a large piece of shielding. That heat, in turn, could drive a Rankine Cycle (like modern reactors) or Sterling Engine. For efficiencies much better than a panel. For comparison, a Rankine can have efficiency in excess of 40% percent and Sterling engines around 20%, though I seem to recall seeing %50 somewhere.


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