Like it or not, germs are everywhere and while in many cases, their presence pose no threat to people, there are still some instances when sterilizing them would be best, such as food and medical supplies. One sterilization methods involves exposing the items to high energy gamma radiation, which will damage the germs but not the items, but irradiation can be expensive. Researchers at Oregon State University however have developed a new irradiation technique that uses waste from nuclear plants.
Nuclear waste is an ever growing problem because there is little to no established means of recycling it for future use in a reactor or destroying it such that it poses no harm to the environment. Instead it is simply stored on site, but the researchers suggest using the still energetic waste to irradiate items such as medical supplies and food. Irradiation is already used to sterilize such materials, but it can be quite expensive because of the radioactive materials needed. As nuclear waste is, well, waste just sitting around, it represents a much cheaper alternative.
The researchers estimate that each reactor to implement the irradiation program they have designed could create a $10 million a year revenue stream. This new income could then offset the usual storage cost of the waste, while also paying new employees to run the irradiation systems.
Source: Oregon State University