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Home AIMD Companies Arco Medical (1969-1980) Arco Medical’s Nuclear-Powered Pacemaker (ca.1974)

Arco Medical’s Nuclear-Powered Pacemaker (ca.1974)

Arco pacemaker powered by a plutonium 238 RTG

Image Credit: Arco Medical Products Co. (1974)

An isotopic thermoelectric generator was developed in the US by Numec Corporation under a contract from the US Atomic Energy Commission and sold for $3,200 (back in 1974). The thermopile consisted of doped bismuth telluride pairs that were placed in a parallel/series arrangement to generate some 300 μW of power to run this Arco Medical model NU-5F pacemaker.

The nuclear battery in the ARCO Medical device used a tiny 8 Ci slug of metallic Plutonium 238 (Pu-238). The radiation produced by the Pu-238 bombarded the walls of its container, producing heat that a thermopile then converted to an electrical current. A thermopile is a stack of thermocouples, which are devices that convert thermal energy directly into electrical energy using Seebeck effect.  The thermocouple was made of two kinds of metal (or semiconductors) connected to each other in a closed loop. If the two junctions are at different temperatures, an electric current will flow in the loop.

Thermopile assembly of the Arco Medical Nuclear pacemaker

Thermopile assembly used in the ARCO Medical nuclear pacemaker. The resistance is about 14kΩ ohms. ~80 pairs of cupron-tophel thermocouples (isolated with glass tape) in series generate about ~1-2 volts. Six of these tapes are wound together (series/parallel) to make a thermopile. The core of the thermopile is heated with plutonium 238 in a series of capsules. This thermopile was sealed in a vacuum. Courtesy of Paul Spehr who worked at ARCO before it was acquired by Intermedics.

NOTE: The photograph of the NU-5F pacemaker was part of the media kit distributed by Arco Medical in 1974. I do not personally possess any live atomic pacemakers or RTGs.

Click here for my paper on nuclear-powered pacemakers.

Click here for the authoritative paper on nuclear batteries for pacemakers: Fred N. Huffman, et al., RADIOISOTOPE POWERED CARDIAC PACEMAKERS, Cardiovasc Dis., 1(1): 52–60, 1974. (Copyright notice: This article is free from www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov).

Click here to find out what to do if you find a nuclear pacemaker.

Internal components of the Arco nuclear pacemaker


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  1. […] Click here for a color picture and more information on Arco Medical’s nuclear pacemakers. […]