Uses of Nuclear Radiation - Industrial Applications

Tracers in Industry


Leaks from a pipeline can be traced by adding a radioactive isotope into what ever it is carrying. The source must have a short half-life (a few hours) so that it can be detected as it passes through but not stay radioactive long enough to pose a health hazard.

Wear of moving parts can be tested by making the part radioactive and monitoring the proportion of worn parts in the lubricating oil by looking for the level of radioactivity in it. See this page.

A gamma source can be used to check welds in metal parts. It is used in a similar way to X-rays on a human body. A photographic plate is placed behind the weld. It is exposed more where the weld is weak.

Sterilisation of Food and Surgical Instruments

Gamma rays kill bacteria.

Therefore irradiating foodstuffs or surgical instruments is a good way of ensuring they are sterile. The gamma rays penetrate packaging, so the food or instrument can be sealed first and then sterilised so that re-contamination cannot occur.

No radioactive source particles are allowed to get in touch with the irradiated substance.

The source is sealed so that only gamma rays get out. Therefore the irradiated substance is sterile but NOT radioactive.

Thickness Control in Manufacturing

Automatic control over the thickness of paper in paper mills can be obtained by passing beta radiation through the paper and monitoring the count rate.

An isotope with a long half-life is used so that the count-rate hardly changes with time.

Electrical circuitry is then set up to ensure that a constant rate is maintained.

If the rate is too low the rollers automatically move closer to each other (making the paper thinner) and vice versa.