Sterilization through ionizing radiation, a nuclear technique at the service of health
In depth

Sterilization through ionizing radiation, a nuclear technique at the service of health

Radiation has bactericidal properties: it kills germs that cause disease and neutralizes other harmful organisms. This makes it a very useful application to sterilize materials. Sterilization with ionizing radiation, or radiosterilization, efficiently deactivates harmful microorganisms and has many applications. It is much more effective and versatile than sterilization through heat and chemical products.

How is radiosterilization done?

Ionizing radiations produce the ionization of the microorganisms’ DNA. Under certain conditions, this can affect the cellular multiplication process. This way microorganisms can be destroyed, deactivated or reduced from solid or liquid materials without producing heat.

Ionizing radiations can be used to destroy, deactivate or reduce microorganisms from solid or liquid materials without generating heat

¿Qué tipo de radiaciones se pueden aplicar?

The type of radiation used depends on what it is applied to in the industry. The more penetrating radiations are neutrons, followed by gamma and X-rays. Beta radiations have a lower capacity of penetration than the aforementioned, but higher than alpha particles, which cannot penetrate a sheet or paper or skin.

Sterilization through ionizing radiation, a nuclear technique at the service of health

Gamma radiation is generally used to sterilize food, medicine, laboratory equipment, blood, fabric and health materials.

Gamma radiation is generally used to sterilize food, medicine, laboratory equipment, blood, fabric and health materials

Advantages of radiosterilization

  • Goes through matter with a high capacity to penetrate materials. This has the great advantage of sterilizing packaged products, such as one-use medical material like syringes and surgical gloves.
  • It is a quick process.
  • The does is not very high and there is no increase in temperature, which makes it possible to sterilize thermo-sensitive materials such as plastics, drugs and biological samples. In Spain we already have an X-ray blood sterilization facility
  • It is flexible. It can sterilize products in any physical state (gas, liquid or solid) and with any density, size or thickness.
  • The sterilizing effect can be easily controlled and it is also instantaneous and simultaneous when applied to several products at the same time.
Dispositivo de radioesterilización para distintos productos y materiales
Dispositivo de radioesterilización para distintos productos y materiales

What are other applications of ionizing radiation?

Apart from sterilization, the most significan applications of ionizing radiations in the industry are:

  • Thickness, density or level measuring.
  • Treatment processes such as polymerization and sterilization.
  • Non-destructive tests like radiography or neutrography.
  • Tracers to measure things like fluid flow or speed inside pipes.
  • Prospection to check ground characteristics.

Where is radiosterilization done?

For now, ionizing radiation can only be applied within specific sites with a high security level and by specialized professionals. In order to avoid exposure risks to the staff, the application of radiation is an automatic process. The first step is to calculate the radiation dose checking that it is high enough to eliminate harmful microorganisms, and then you just need to control the exposure time.

These advantages and properties have led to the development of many industrial irradiation plants all over the world.

At this time in which we are living with a pandemic virus like COVID-19, it is extremely important to clean and sterilize materials and surfaces to minimize infection. In this sense, sterilization via ionizing radiation can be a great ally.

The advantages of radiosterilization have led to the development of mani industrial irradiation plants all over the world

For more information: