Other uses of nuclear technology

Nuclear technology is not just used to supply electricity to the grid; it is in a wide variety of other uses such as medicine, heating and space travel.

Nuclear medicine

Maintenance of Radiometric Systems (Babcock)

Nuclear medicine uses radiation to allow doctors to make a quick, accurate diagnosis of the functioning of person's specific organs, or to treat them. Radiotherapy can be used to treat some medical conditions, especially cancer, using radiation to weaken or destroy particular targeted cells.

Tens of millions of patients are treated with nuclear medicine each year. Over 10,000 hospitals worldwide use radioisotopes in medicine, and about 90% of the procedures are for diagnosis.  The most common radioisotope used in diagnosis is technetium-99, with some 30 million procedures per year, accounting for 80% of all nuclear medicine procedures worldwide.

Modern industry also uses radioisotopes in a variety of ways. Sealed radioactive sources are used in industrial radiography, gauging applications and mineral analysis.

Heat for desalination

Heat from nuclear reactors can be used directly, instead or as well as being used to generate electricity. This heat can be used for district heating, as process heat for industry or for desalination plants, used to make clean drinkable water from seawater.

Space missions


Radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) are used in space missions. The heat generated by the decay of a radioactive source, often plutonium-238, is used to generate electricity. The Voyager space probes, the Cassini mission to Saturn, the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the New Horizons mission to Pluto all are powered by RTGs. The Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers have used a mix of solar panels for electricity and RTGs for heat. The latest Mars rover, Curiosity, is much bigger and uses RTGs for heat and electricity as solar panels would not be able to supply enough electricity.

In the future electricity or heat from nuclear power plants could be used to make hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used in fuel cells to power cars, or can be burnt to provide heat in place of gas, without producing emissions that would cause climate change.


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