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Other Ways Radiation is Used

Outside of nuclear power and nuclear weaponry, there remains a wide array of ways in which radioactive material and the radiation it gives off remain useful in the daily lives of people all over the world. 


Smoke Detectors

 

Americium 241 source from a Smoke Detector

An Americium-241 source from a smoke detector

Some smoke detectors also use radioactive elements as part of their detection mechanism, usually americium-241, which use the ionizing radiation of the alpha particles to cause and then measure changes in the ionization of the air immediately around the detector.  A change due to smoke in the air will cause the alarm to sound.


Medicine

 

X-Ray Techs

X-Rays are one of the most common uses of radiation in medecine, providing valuable information to doctors and other medical professionals on patient injuries or maladies

 

Hospitals use radiation in a wide range of ways.  X-Ray, CT, and PET machines use X-ray (X-ray and CT) and Gamma radiation (PET) to produce detailed images of the human body, which provide valuable diagnostic information for doctors and their patients.  Radionuclides are also used to directly treat illnesses, such as radioactive iodine, which is taken up almost exclusively by the thyroid, to treat cancer or hyperthyroidism.  Radioactive tracers and dyes are also used to be able to accurately map a specific area or system, such as in a cardiac stress test, which may use a radioactive isotope like Technetium-99 to identify areas of the heart and surrounding arteries with diminished blood flow.


Radiography


Essentially high-powered versions of the types of X-Ray machines used in medicine, industrial radiography cameras use X-rays or even gamma sources (such as Iridium-192, Cobalt-60, or Cesium-137) to examine hard to reach or hard to see places.  This is frequently used to examine welds for defects or irregularities, or examining other materials to locate structural anomalies or internal components.

 

Radiography Camera

An industrial radiography camera being used to inspect a weld for defects

 

Industrial radiography is also very useful for secure, non-invasive scanning at security checkpoints, such as airports, where x-ray baggage scanners are in routine use.   Larger versions of the same machines are often used to examine shipping containers all over the world.


Food Safety

 

Radura Symbol

The Radura is the international symbol denoting that a food product has been irradiated

 

Food irradiation is the process of using radioactive sources to sterilize foodstuffs.   The radiation works by killing bacteria and viruses, or eliminating their ability to reproduce by severely damaging their DNA or RNA.  Since neutron radiation is not used, the remaining food doesn’t become radioactive itself, leaving it safe to eat.  This method is also used to sterilize food packaging, medical devices, and manufacturing parts.