By virtue of its radioactive nature, radioisotopes are best suited for numerous applications in medicine, industry, hydrology and agriculture. Most of these radionuclides are produced in nuclear reactors. Radiation is used in detection and treatment of cancer - the therapy kills the cancerous cells. In radiology, the X-rays and radioisotopes, (radiopharmaceuticals) are used for diagnostic purposes like, for imaging of the body organs (CT scans) to study their functional disorders.
The energy released in the U-235 fission reaction is used generate electricity in nuclear power reactors. The various stages of the fuel production and utilization are called Nuclear Fuel Cycle operations.
The various stages are:
- Uranium mining
- Milling and processing
- Fuel fabrication
- The fuel utilization in nuclear reactors
- Spent fuel storage
- Fuel reprocessing, and
- Radioactive waste management.
Nuclear is the world's second largest source of low-carbon power, i.e., 29% of the total in 2017. Besides, nuclear power generation, the major industrial applications are in NDT (radiography), as gauging devices in manufacturing, radioactive isotopes are used as tracers to study industrial processes, etc.
Significant part of food production in the world is lost after harvesting during transportation and storage. Proper irradiation of food items such as: fish, fruits, onion, potatoes, spices, etc increases the shelf-life of the food items. Numerous studies indicated that the food items are safe for human consumption. The food doesn’t become radioactive after gamma irradiation. Gamma irradiation is also used extensively for sterilization of packaged disposable medical accessories.
The sewage sludge can be converted into useful manure by irradiation to kill harmful pathogens. Pest control by insect irradiation is another important application promoted by international organizations like IAEA for preventing loss of food grains. In agriculture, irradiation is used to produce better quality seeds and crops; radiotracers are used to study the movement of underground and surface waters, leakages in pipelines, seepages from dams, etc.