The primary use of nuclear energy is the generation of electrical power. However, there are many other peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
If we work with different isotopes of the same element, we can use nuclear technology for other uses in various fields.
Nuclear energy does not only manifest itself in fission and fusion processes but is also present in radioactive materials, whether natural or artificial.
These radioactive materials have had various applications in different fields, for several decades, for the benefit of humanity.
Its uses in agriculture include its use as tracers to know the use of nutrients and thus the improvement of crops. Also, they have been used to control pests without harming food products in this field.
In medicine, they use nuclear energy to diagnose and treat some kind of tumor, among other uses.
In industry, its uses range from the thickness and density control to component failure detection due to internal defects. They have also been used as energy sources to operate maritime buoys, and some projects allow their use as energy sources for emergency lighting at home.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) promotes a solid and sustainable global nuclear safety and security framework along the nuclear fuel cycle in the Member States
The main uses of atomic energy are as follows:
1. Electricity Generation
The most important and well-known use of nuclear energy is the generation of electricity in nuclear power plants.
During the Second World War, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. At that moment, the world realized how harmful nuclear technology could be. As a result, there were international efforts to encourage the countries to leave atomic weapons aside and rethink nuclear activities to civil and peaceful use.
In this sense, nuclear reactors were given a new use: to generate electricity from the nuclear fission of uranium atoms.
A nuclear power plant is a facility capable of turning out the atomic energy contained in uranium atoms to generate electricity. The process to obtain this conversion is the result of heat exchange and mechanical operation. Uranium is one of the elements on the periodic table of the most unstable elements, making it ideal for this purpose.
At first, the nuclear reactor generates fission reactions of the atomic nuclei of uranium, emitting a large amount of thermal energy. Then, with all this heat energy, high-pressure steam is obtained to drive the plant's steam turbines. In this way, mechanical energy is conveyed to power the electrical generator and convert the kinetic energy of the shaft into electrical energy.
2. Industrial Processes
Nuclear energy plays a vital role in modern industry, improving measurement and automation processes for product quality control. In particular, it is used in:
Development and improvement of processes.
It is used as a prerequisite for the complete automation of high-speed production lines. In addition, this technology is applied to the research of processes, mixing, maintenance, and the study of wear and corrosion of facilities and machinery.
Nuclear technology is also used in the manufacture of plastics and the sterilization of single-use products.
Nuclear radiation is currently used in a wide field of activities such as quality control in raw materials, industrial processes of cement plants, thermal power plants, or oil refineries.
Some of the branches that we can highlight in the use of nuclear energy are:
Radioactive substances are introduced into a specific industrial process to detect the trajectory of said substances thanks to their emission. Thanks to this layout, information is obtained to prolong the life of industrial equipment.
X-rays of Internal Structure in the Pieces
It is a quality control application that is a non-destructive method that allows checking the quality of welds, metal, or ceramic parts without damaging or altering the composition of the material.
Improve Product Quality
An example of this use can be radiation used to create plastics and sterilize "single-use" products.
Reduces the radioactive dose rate and mitigates the initiation of stress corrosion cracking.
Using nuclear probes, the physics and chemistry of soils can be determined, which allows identifying if a stratum contains enough minerals or fuels.
4. Nuclear Medicine
One of the most important applications of nuclear energy after generating electricity is its use to treat and diagnose diseases: nuclear medicine.
Ionizing radiation allows images of the interior of patients to be obtained, helping to diagnose diseases. In addition, this nuclear material is also used to treat diseases such as cancer as it can destroy tumor cells.
One in three patients who go to a hospital in a country in the first world receives the benefits of some nuclear medicine procedure.
Some examples of the use of nuclear medicine are:
Techniques such as radiation therapy to treat malignant tumors
Use of teletherapy for cancer treatment
Radiological biology makes it possible to sterilize medical products.
5. Agriculture and Pest Control
The application of isotopes to agriculture has increased agricultural production in less developed countries.
The agricultural sector uses nuclear and related technologies to adapt to climate change, increasing resource use efficiency and productivity sustainably.
Nuclear technology is beneficial in:
Insect pest control
Maximum use of water resources
Improvement of crop varieties
Establishment of the necessary conditions to optimize the effectiveness of fertilizers and water.
6. Pest Management
The sterile insect technique (SIT) involves mass rearing and sterilizing male insects before releasing them onto pest-infested areas. The method suppresses and gradually eliminates established pests or prevents invasive species and is safer for the environment and human health than conventional pesticides.
Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States of America have been using SIT for decades to prevent the northward spread (Mexico and the United States) of the Mediterranean fruit fly.
In Latin America, Guatemala sends hundreds of millions of sterile male mosquitoes each week to California and Florida to protect valuable crops, such as citrus. With sterile males unable to reproduce, it is the perfect birth control for insects.
7. Food Security
Nuclear techniques play a crucial role in treating food safely.
Nuclear techniques help national authorities in more than 50 countries improve food safety by addressing harmful residues and contaminants in food products and enhancing their systems with stable isotope analysis.
The application of isotopes makes it possible to increase the preservation of food considerably. Currently, more than 35 countries allow irradiation of some foods.
The application of isotopes makes it possible to determine the exact amounts of pollutants and places where they occur and their causes.
Furthermore, electron beam treatment reduces the environmental and health consequences of the large-scale use of fossil fuels.
Nuclear energy contributes more effectively than other techniques to solve problems such as the greenhouse effect and acid rain.
9. Other Uses of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy is also used in the dating of archeological elements. This process is possible thanks to the binding properties of the carbon-14 isotope to bones, wood, or organic waste.
It is also used in Geophysics and Geochemistry. These sciences harness natural radioactive materials to date rock, coal, or oil deposits.
Other uses of nuclear technology occur in disciplines such as hydrology, mining, or the space industry.