Applications of Irradiation

Benefiting the lives of millions of people around the world every day.

Radiation processing delivers benefits to everyone yet very few people are aware that many products that they rely upon have been improved by irradiation. Radiation processing is the intentional exposure of products and materials to ionising radiation in order to improve their performance or characteristics. This section highlights some of the leading applications of irradiation processing. Further details are available the iia publication Uses and Applications of Radiation Processing.


Radiation processing is used to sterilise almost half of all single use medical products used in surgical and healthcare procedures. The technology is also used to support a number of other healthcare needs and research. Products sterilised using irradiation range from simple gauze dressings to complex medical devices containing drugs and therapeutics. Products include surgical gloves, wound care products, implants such as hip-joints, pre filled syringes and blood collection tubes.

Polymer Processing

Irradiation of polymers results in a variety of reactions including crosslinking, polymerisation, grafting or degradation. These reactions will result in changes in the characteristics and performance of synthetic polymers making them more resistant to high temperatures, wear and chemicals. Treated polymers are used in safety critical environments in industries such as automotive, aviation and defence.


Phytosanitary measures are used in the international trade of fresh commodities to prevent spread of non- native insects that could cause huge losses for the agricultural industry of the importing countries. Increasingly, irradiation is being used as a phytosanitary methods such as fenthion or to provide fresh products of a better quality than when alternative treatments such cold or heat.


Environmental applications are available but not yet widely adopted. However, adoption might expand as concern over the environment increases. Applications include; the treatment of gaseous emissions from coal powered power stations and diesel powered ships, the treatment of solid waste and the treatment of hazardous bio-waste and polluted water.

History and Culture

Many cultural artefacts (wooden objects, parchments, textiles and leather artefacts) are under attack from insects, fungi and bacteria while stored in religious buildings, museums and archives. Irradiation can kill the organisms which damage these objects with minimal effect on wood, paints, pigments and varnishes. Most famously, irradiation was used to disinfect the mummy of pharaoh Ramses II in 1977.

Research & Exploration

Irradiation plays an important part in research and exploration. Electronic components and circuits are hardened using irradiation in order to make then resistant to damage and malfunction caused by cosmic irradiation encountered in outer space and high altitude flights. Research is being undertaken into extreme radiation microbiology where it has been suggested that these radiotrophic fungi could be employed to protect astronauts from radiation during space exploration missions or stays on the moon or Mars.

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