Radio Isotopes and their Uses

Last Update: May 2023 (Radio Isotopes and their Uses)

Radio Isotopes and their Uses

This article deals with ‘Radio Isotopes and their Uses .’ This is part of our series on ‘Science and Technology’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


Isotopes of some elements are unstable and hence radioactive. E.g.: Iodine-131, Indium-92, Molybdenum-99, Chromium-51, Phosphorous-32 etc.

Applications of Radio Isotopes

1. Energy

  • Energy can be produced by using nuclear fission and fusion in a controlled way using nuclear reactors.
Radio Isotopes and their Uses

2. Agriculture

  • To develop mutant crops: Radioisotopes is used to develop high yield, disease-resistant varieties 
  • BARC has produced green manure crop Sesbania Rostrata using this
  • Food irradiation: Food irradiation is used for food preservation, in which radiation is used to break chemical bonds of enzymes needed for chemical reactions. It increases the shelf life of perishable food. CODEX & HACCP accept food irradiation. Prevention of Food Adulteration Act has provisions regarding food irradiation.
Food irradiation

3. Medicine and Healthcare

  • Nuclear medicine is a medical speciality that uses trace amounts of radioactive substances (called radio-pharmaceuticals) to diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases and conditions safely and painlessly.
    1. Thyroid cancer is treated using I-131 (iodine)
    2. Bhabhatron, designed by BARC, is used to treat  Breast Cancer, Bowel Cancer, Head and Neck Cancer and Lung Cancer using radioactive Co-60 (Cobalt).
    3. Brachytherapy is done by placing sealed radioactive sources at or near the target area. It is used for treating Prostate Cancer using Iridium-192
  • Radio Immunoassay to measure Hormones, Enzymes and Serum Proteins.
  • Radiation Sterilization is used to sterilize medical products such as syringes, cotton wool etc.
Nuclear Medicine

4. Dating / Archaeology

  • C-14 Dating: Radioactivity of a particular isotope of Carbon, i.e. C-14, is used by archaeologists to ascertain the age of dead organisms. 
  • Uranium Dating: Uranium dating is used to date the rocks formed 1 million to 4.5 billion years ago.

5. Sludge Hygenization

  • Radiation Technology is used to hygienize the sludge and manufacture manure from it. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is using this technique.
Radioactivity Applications

6. Insect and Pest Control

Insect and Pest Control

7. Detecting Leakage

  • Radioactivity can be used to detect the point of leakage in underground pipelines. The point of leakage has high levels of radiation. 
High Count Rate

8. Other uses

  • Water Management: BARC has developed desalination technologies for providing potable water in rural areas & on ships using radioactive materials.  
  • Industry: Radioisotopes are used in the quality control of industrial products.

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