We have designed and tested a 1-m-long x-ray diode based on innovative plasma cathodes, which exploit commercial spark plugs as electron emitters. Based on the results of a numerical study, we optimized both diode geometry (e.g., the angle between anode and cathode surfaces, the thickness of the Al window) and electrical circuitry (e.g., the capacitance in series to each spark plug, the peak voltage of the anode) of our x-ray generator. The overall result is a simple and efficient circuitry, giving a total diode current in excess of 2.1 kA with a breakdown voltage of 70 kV, which generates a 50 ns rise-time x-ray pulse with a spatially averaged dosage of up to 6×10−4 Gy when using a Pb-wrapped anode. The double-diode x-ray generator was operated for 1.5×106 shots at a repetition rate of up to 30 Hz, and the lifetime test was interrupted without any fault. During the lifetime test, it was not necessary to adjust any working parameter. At the end of the lifetime test, the x-ray emission uniformity was better than 80% along the longitudinal axis. This x-ray generator has a lifetime, reliability, and cost fitting the requirements of industrial users. Among the broad range of potential applications, this x-ray generator is particularly suitable to ionize discharge pumped gas lasers, like TEA CO2 and excimer lasers, including those operated by x-ray triggered discharges. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.