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What are the peaceful uses of nuclear energy?

More than 50 years ago, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed, but this treaty does not provide for the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons only, as Article 4 of it stipulates the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy in all parts of the world in the interest of man, so what are these uses?

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Peaceful uses of nuclear energy

Nuclear energy relies on the energy produced by radioactive isotopes of some elements. Radioisotopes are unstable forms of a particular chemical element, which have nuclei with the same number of protons, but different numbers of neutrons (protons and neutrons are components of the nuclei of atoms).

The properties of the atoms of these radioactive elements have many applications in many aspects of modern daily life, and among these applications are the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Electricity generation

The first power plant using the heat resulting from the splitting of uranium atoms began operating in the fifties of the last century, and nuclear power plants today provide electricity in more than 30 countries around the world, supplying these countries with 17% of the global electricity supply, and causing a reduction of 8% of electricity. global carbon emissions.


In agriculture, peaceful nuclear energy can be used in several forms:

Improve cultivated plants

Plant seeds or parts of plants can be irradiated. The aim is to cause qualitative mutations in them, which will give them desirable characteristics when they grow. These mutations occur naturally in plants and give them improved traits, but the irradiation process quickly gives them desirable traits.

This technology has been applied to rice plants in Bangladesh, which has tripled yields in the past few decades and helped them achieve food security.


Fertilizers can harm the environment if used in excess, so fertilizers can be labeled with a radioactive isotope such as nitrogen-15 to check how much has been benefited by plants, allowing for better management of fertilizer use.

Pest control

Insects cause huge losses in crops despite all the control methods used, whether it is through insecticides or biological control. Therefore, the researchers resorted to the use of genetically modified crops, so that they have the ability to resist insects and pests without the need for pesticides.

Another method is the dissemination of sterile insects (SIT), in this technique insects are exposed to radiation, and then re-disseminated in their natural populations. These insects are sexually competitive, but they cannot produce offspring. Thus, pest control is carried out in an environmentally friendly manner.

This technique has been in use for nearly 60 years, and has been applied to mosquitoes, mites, screwworms, tsetse flies, and various fruit flies, and has led to the control of diseases transmitted by these insects, such as the Zika virus.

Smoke detection

Some household smoke detectors contain a small amount of the element americium-241, a product of plutonium-241 originating in nuclear reactors. If smoke enters this detector, the americium absorbs particles called alpha particles and cuts off the current, triggering the alarm.

Food sterilization

It has become common to expose foodstuffs to gamma rays in order to kill bacteria that cause human diseases, or bacteria that cause food spoilage, which contributes to increasing the shelf life.

Irradiation also contributes to an increase in shelf life by delaying the ripening of fruits and vegetables, and it also helps in controlling pests.


Radioisotopes are used by manufacturers to monitor fluid flow, detect leaks, and measure engine wear and equipment wear. The mixing and flow rates of a wide variety of materials used in industry are also increased by adding small amounts of radioactive elements to the materials used in various operations, including liquids and powders, can be studied, and the locations of leaks and the levels of gases and liquids can be studied.

Radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon dating technology helps determine the age of rocks and other materials of interest to geologists, anthropologists, hydrologists, and archaeologists.

Water desalination

Nuclear-powered desalination plants for seawater, mineral groundwater, or wastewater are now widespread in several countries, such as Kazakhstan, India, and Japan. The use of nuclear energy in desalination plants has contributed to reducing the use of fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


Radiation and radioisotopes are used in medicine to diagnose and treat many medical conditions and to develop vaccines.


Diagnostic techniques in nuclear medicine use radioactive drugs that emit gamma rays from inside the body. These substances allow the examination of specific physiological processes. These substances enter the body by mouth, injection, or inhalation, and emissions from radiotracers are detected by an imaging device that provides images and molecular information. Overlaying nuclear medicine images with a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can provide doctors with a comprehensive view to aid in diagnosis. An advantage of supranuclear X-ray techniques is that bone and soft tissues can be imaged successfully.

These substances do not harm the body, for example, the radioactive isotope technetium-99 is used with a half-life of only 6 hours, and it gives the patient a very low radiation dose that helps track many vital processes with the least amount of discomfort for the patient.

They are widely used to indicate tumors and to study the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, blood circulation, volume, and bone structure.


One of the most widely used radioactive elements for treatment is radioactive iodine-131. It is used in small amounts to treat cancer and thyroid diseases.

A beam of gamma rays from a source of cobalt 60 is also used to treat cancerous tumors, and the patient is exposed to it externally, and a small gamma or beta radiation source is used internally. This is one of the most common methods of treating cancer.


Hospitals use gamma rays to sterilize medical products and supplies such as syringes, gloves, clothing, and tools that may be damaged by heat sterilization. This technology is less expensive and more effective than other sterilization methods, especially for sterilizing heat-sensitive items such as powders, ointments, and solutions, biological components such as bone, nerves, and skin used in tissue grafts, and many other medical products.


Small nuclear power reactors are used to power ships and submarines, as ships stay at sea for long periods without the possibility of refueling.

On spacecraft, radioisotope thermogenerators (RTGs) are used for power. These heat generators may be the vehicle's sole power source, or they may be auxiliary to the solar panels.

Electricity generated from nuclear power plants can also be used to power electric cars.

The environment

Radioisotopes play an important role in detecting and analyzing pollutants in the environment. Nuclear techniques have been applied to a range of pollution problems including smog formation, atmospheric sulfur dioxide pollution, ocean sewage trailing, and oil spills. The adoption of nuclear power is also an important tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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Find drinking water

In the search for drinking water, radioisotopes allow accurate tracking of groundwater and measurement of its percentage. This contributes to the management and conservation of existing water supplies and to the identification of new sources.

For surface water, it helps provide information about seepages through dams and irrigation canals, lake and reservoir dynamics, flow rates, river discharge, and sedimentation rates.

In addition, irradiation can destroy some pollutants from wastewater from industrial processes.

Preserving the marine environment

Nuclear techniques are used to track pollution and harmful algal blooms in marine waters, assess the causes of coastal death, monitor environmental impacts on marine life, and promote global action against ocean acidification.

Despite all these peaceful uses of nuclear energy, many fear the impact of radioactive elements, but experts believe that this matter can be avoided with good planning for the application of nuclear energy.