14 everyday helpful uses of...nuclear waste?!

Ever seen a show or news program show a radiation detector measuring clicks in some area, and you think "that doesn't sound good..."?

They never show it but if you held it up to yourself, you would click too.  I'm naturally radioactive and so are you.  The earth is radioactive, the ocean is radioactive, the core of the earth is warm from radioactive decay, and lots of other things.  In fact it's the natural radioactive decay of objects that helps scientists find out their age through carbon dating!  Check out our Earth Day post on nature and radiation.

Not only are most objects radioactive to some degree, but radioactive and nuclear byproduct material are critical in many applications.  It could even be the same elements created in reactors, but since everything is stardust, everything radioactive is in one way of speaking "nuclear waste".
Keeping in mind that radioactivity is natural and everywhere, here's a few everyday radioactive items with a few extra clicks and a few important uses of radioactive materials.

Have a few other examples not listed here?  Post them in the comments!

1) medical imaging
It might not sound like an "everyday" use, but materials like Tecnetium-99 are used in 40 million+ medical procedures every year worldwide for important things like heart, bone, cancer and other imaging and diagnostic tools that save lives by early detection and treatment.  That's more than 75 times a minute!

2) smoke detectors
Smoke detectors use Americium-241 to save countless lives from fire and asphyxiation.

3) recycling
Recycling centers use radioactive elements in gauges used for measuring in recycling of metals like aluminum.

4) banana
Many times people use bananas as an example of a common food item which naturally have a bit more of the radioactive element Potassium-40.  Potassium is a critical electrolyte, so eat up!

5) granite
Your beautiful granite countertop or cutting board or capitol building naturally has significant amounts of radioactive earth elements Uranium-238 and Thorium-232.

6) exit sign
Tritium exit signs help people find a safe exit even if there is no power.

7) brazil nut
Brazil nuts, like bananas, are another food with naturally occurring higher concentrations of radioactive elements.  They have also been shown to fight and prevent cancers including breast and prostate cancer.  Brazil nuts have high levels of Radium-226 and Radium-228.

8) luminous watch hands
You can tell the time in the dark with some watches thanks to radioactive Tritium or Radium.

9) radioactive spas
People travel worldwide to visit these health spas with higher levels of radioactive Radon-222 or Radon-220, products of the decay of naturally occurring uranium or thorium, which are found to help with arthritis pain and other health ailments.  In Germany, they may be afraid of nuclear power, but they flock to these hills with high levels of Uranium and their Radon spas.

10) sterile contact solution
Contact solution, and many other sterile health, medical, and cosmetic products are sanitized using radioactive materials.

11) glow in the dark toys
Glow in the dark toys, stickers, clothes and knick-knacks might use tritium, Krypton-85, or Promethium-147 to give it that fun glow!

12) lights for safety in airplanes
In case of loss of electric system, airplanes use tritium or Promethium-147 for emergency lighting.

13) moisture detectors for home and building foundations, roadways, and farming soil.
Moisture detectors use americium and beryllium to detect moisture in the ground.

14) blood banks
Ever given blood?  Odds are either Cobalt-60 or Cesium-137 were used to sterilize the syringe, the needle, and possibly even the blood itself.


  1. I refer to geothermal power as nuclear power's little brother. The earth-found heat from radioactive decay is the disorganized version of the compact high-quality nuclear heat deliberately engineered from the same principal element.


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