Where our waste comes from

Radioactive materials bring major benefits to Australian society through their use in medicine, scientific research, industry, agriculture and technological fields.


Nuclear medicine and radiology are the major source of medical techniques and procedures that involve use of radiation or radioactivity to diagnose, treat and prevent disease.

Approximately one-third of all procedures used in modern hospitals, from paediatrics to cardiology, involve radiation or radioactivity. The average Australian can expect to undergo one of these procedures at least once in their lifetime. These procedures are safe and effective.
One of the most beneficial medical uses of radiation is in the sterilisation of equipment. Syringes, dressings, surgical gloves, heart valves and surgical instruments can be sterilised after packaging by exposing them to radiation.

In our homes

One of the most common uses of radioisotopes in the home is the smoke detector. These lifesaving devices contain minute amounts of radioactive material that make the detector sensitive to smoke without having any negative effects on people or animals. Most homes contain products that have been sterilised by radiation.
Humans have increased their radiation dose through a variety of activities. One is living indoors. In surrounding ourselves with bricks and mortar, we increase the concentration of a radioactive gas called radon in the air we breathe.


Industry uses radioactive materials in a variety of ways, including diagnostic and analytical procedures and to improve safety and productivity. These uses directly and indirectly influence our everyday lives. For example, measuring devices containing radioactive materials are used in tasks ranging from testing the moisture content of soils during road construction to measuring the thickness of paper and plastics during manufacturing to checking the height of fluid when filling bottles in factories.

Agriculture and the environment

In agriculture, radioactive materials are used to improve food crops, preserve food, and control insect pests. They are used in a range of environmental measurements to measure soil moisture content, erosion rates, salinity, and the efficiency of fertiliser uptake in the soil.
They are used to measure and map:

  • effluent and pollution discharges from factories and sewerage plants
  • sand movement around harbours, rivers and bays
  • the impact of land clearing on the environment.

Radioactive materials used for these measurements have short half-lives and decay to background levels in a matter of days.

Naturally occurring radioactive material

Naturally occurring radioactive material is the term used to describe materials that contain radionuclides in the natural environment.
For more information on naturally occurring radioactive material: