Skip to main content Homepage

Uses of Radioactive Materials

How Materials Are Used in a Variety of Settings 


shoulder x-rayRadiography means making an image on film using a radiation source (from x-ray or gamma radiation). The word 'Radiography' is the technical term used for the common word 'x-ray'. Specific licensees radiograph welds, metal ingots, castings, and other solid objects to detect structural defects. Radiography also is used to determine the structural integrity of boilers, bridges, digesters, and other industrial processing equipment to ensure worker safety and process control. Radiography licensees must practice ALARA because the radioactive sources used for radiography if used unsafely can be very dangerous.

Medical & Healing Arts

Materials used in the Healing Arts for diagnostic tests have a very short half-life. These nuclides are used for abadge with iridium symbol, atomic mass and atomic number physician or health care professional to identify cancer metastases, detect heart damage or dysfunction (stress test), and to identify tumors, to mention a few uses. Nuclides also are used to treat cancer. Iodine-131 is used to treat thyroid cancer and hyperthyroidism. Strontium-89 is used to treat bone pain in advanced cancer patients. Palladium-103 and Iodine-125 implants are used to treat prostate cancer. Removable Iridium-192 and Cesium-137 implants are used to treat other types of cancers. Health care providers are extremely careful to not expose themselves or others not undergoing treatment to unwanted radiation.

Research Use of Radionuclides

Radionuclides play a huge role in research. Biochemical researchers use short-lived nuclides for genetic engineering research. Nuclides enable the researchers to identify biochemical and cellular changes that may otherwise not be easily seen. Radionuclides used in research typically are very small quantities.

Industrial Use of Radionuclides

Many industrial nuclides are found in devices called "fixed gauges". Fixed gauges contain a sealed radioactive capsule that is mounted in a fixed position on a pipe, conveyor belt, or process line. Radioactive sources move across the width of huge paper-making machines to ensure that the paper quality remains constant. Radioactive gauges often are combined with computer systems that automatically monitor the amount of raw process material required for a perfect sheet of paper or fiberboard. Some nuclides are used to manufacture other products. Radioactive materials are incorporated into "labeled" chemicals used for research; nuclides are incorporated into medical products for treatment or diagnosis purposes; and nuclides are used to make solid or "sealed sources" used in healing arts, industry, and research.

Field Use of Radioactive Materials

Radioactive materials as sealed sources are used at construction sites. Known as Portable Gauges, these devices can be commonly seen at new road construction sites. They are used to measure moisture content and density of construction materials, including asphalt paving mix. Without these devices, engineers would be required to spend many more hours analyzing roadbeds and surfaces before paving could be done. Portable Gauges allow the highway construction crews to work much faster and accomplish more in a shorter period of time.

Training; Specific License; Radiation Safety Officer

clip art of man wearing yellow safety gear and face mask while checking information on a clipboardTraining is one of the most important parts of the materials program. Program staff are trained with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff. Staff training is mandated by the Commission's Office State and Tribal Programs. Each person who is authorized to use radioactive materials under a Specific License is required to have adequate training. Furthermore, each specific licensee must document individual user training, and must select a radiation safety manager, known as the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO). The RSO has the responsibility to implement the specific license radiation safety program, ensure that personnel are trained in radiation safety, and keep required records of receipt, use, transfer, and disposal.

Your browser is out-of-date! It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how