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They did WHAT? Pu-238 pacemaker.

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A quote from Wikipedia:

"RTG technology was first developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory during the 1960s and 1970s to provide radioisotope thermoelectric generator power for cardiac pacemakers. Of the 250 plutonium-powered pacemakers Medtronic manufactured, twenty-two were still in service more than twenty-five years later, a feat that no battery-powered pacemaker could achieve."

I looked on the Los Alamos NL website's radiation calculator and it said it only caused like an extra 0.001 Sv/year of radiation dose!

I never realized RTGs were available to the public?

Also, I never realized Pu-238 was available to the public?

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I looked on the Los Alamos NL website's radiation calculator and it said it only caused like an extra 0.001 Sv/year of radiation dose!

Not surprising; it was in a metal casing. Isn't that an alpha emitter eg extremely non penetrating?

Plutonium is not the ultra death stuff many people think. It's really nasty inhaled but that's about it (toxicity by other routes isn't that high although eating it is still a very bad idea); there are plenty of purely chemical substances that are far, far more dangerous (at least for a sub-critical mass of plutonium) because lethal exposures happen much more easily (e.g. dimethylmercury slipping through gloves and skin like happened to Dr. Karen Wetterhahn).

(And heck, the lethal dose of botulinum toxin is far smaller than plutonium - smallest of any known substance in fact - and it's used for cosmetic purposes...)

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It also was only ever a small amount that would have been difficult to use for weapons purposes, and would probably draw a lot of attention if someone were trying to get at any significant amount through this way.

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Yeah, not really all that surprising, let alone dangerous. Alpha-emitters are extremely dangerous when ingested or in very large quantities, but otherwise they atmre harmless, especial if they have a casing like they would in a pacemaker. As for whether it would be risky in that it could be accumulated, that isn't an issue either, as Plutonium 238 is non-fissile.

Edited by TheGatesofLogic

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I wonder if they had any procedures to reclaim the batteries after the patients died or they just let them bury the batteries with the bodies?

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Tommygun: I am pretty sure that it all gets back to Los Alamos, but I am unsure how it gets there quite.

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Well, having nuclear battery in a pacemaker is the nearest we can get to being full on terminator.

But I think these are already phased out.

Talking about radioactive material available to the public though...Soviet Russia once build a series of RTG-powered automated lighthouses in their arctic area before the days of GPS to help ship navigate, about a thousand. Now they are all abandoned, and no one bothered to go there and collect them and dispose of them safely. Many has been broken into and have their RTG stolen. Sometimes they are only stole by scrap metal hunter for their protective covering only, and the radioactive core is discarded, its radiation contaminated the area.

Edited by RainDreamer

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i like some of these newer rtg-on-a-chip solutions they are coming out with. just solder it to a pcb like it was any other component. very low power though, enough to periodically wake up a microcontroller for a few fractions of a second at a time to do some task, and then put it back to sleep before the buffering caps loose their charge. and enough to keep low power srams from loosing data. could power a chip sat while in standby.

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Pu-238 in the form of its dioxide is a ceramic material, as most metallic oxides are. They are poorly chemically reactive. Almost all of the radiation released is alpha-particles, therefore such pacemaker is not dangerous unless you smash it and snort or otherwise consume the dioxide.

These are probably the best pacemakers ever made, along with betavoltaics. They will certainly outlive you. When you die, they are to be removed from your body and sent to the nuclear waste management where the rest of plutonium (little has decayed) is extracted and used for something else.

I don't think they represent danger during cremation. Casing should be made of metal with significantly higher melting point than crematorium burners can achieve. However, to be absolutely sure, they should be removed.

I'd never spread the word if I was a Pu-238 pacemaker user. It would turn me into a terrorist target.

Edited by lajoswinkler

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At the university we had a prof that worked many years as an inspector for the goverment (germany btw). Hus job was to make sure that radioactive polution was within the legal limits. Aside from nuclear reactors he also had to inspect natural sources, abandoned factories (very funy stories about radioactive toothpaste and stuff like that) and crematories. It happened a couple of times that they burned a pacemaker on accident... so there is a law about it now as there are still a couple active.

The craziest thing he told us was about a small town called "schneeberg". The people there used natural sources of uranium for a couple of things like paint for plates and cups. They also used unrefined contaminated materials for theire houses as it produced heat... The so called schneeberger disease was the result... you can see that stuff in museums. I checked it

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Okay, please keep in mind, Pu-238 is NOT fissile and neither are its decay products. It really wouldn't be targeted.

I think the idea is that it could be used in a dirty bomb. In addition to being radioactive, Plutonium is a toxic heavy metal. The risk would, of course, depend on how much radioactive material the pacemaker contains.

Edited by PakledHostage

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I think the idea is that it could be used in a dirty bomb. In addition to being radioactive, Plutonium is a toxic heavy metal. The risk would, of course, depend on how much radioactive material the pacemaker contains. .

Lead is a toxic heavy metal too, but I've never heard of attacks using lead as a weapon... There are 40 jillion toxic things in the world.

EDIT: well, yeah, bullets are lead... but not because of its toxicity...

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Lead is a toxic heavy metal too, but I've never heard of attacks using lead as a weapon... There are 40 jillion toxic things in the world.

Please re-read my post... And in case you have difficulty with comprehension, I was responding to TheGatesofLogic who focused on the fact that Plutonium-238 isn't fissile. I pointed out that, while it may not be fissile, it is still dangerous. Not only because it is radioactive, but becase it is also a toxic heavy metal. It is restricted by rigorous regulations for a reason.

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i know uranium is chemically toxic, but not sure about plutonium (though i think all trans uranics have similar chemical properties, in which case it would be).

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At the university we had a prof that worked many years as an inspector for the goverment (germany btw). Hus job was to make sure that radioactive polution was within the legal limits. Aside from nuclear reactors he also had to inspect natural sources, abandoned factories (very funy stories about radioactive toothpaste and stuff like that) and crematories. It happened a couple of times that they burned a pacemaker on accident... so there is a law about it now as there are still a couple active.

The craziest thing he told us was about a small town called "schneeberg". The people there used natural sources of uranium for a couple of things like paint for plates and cups.

Uranium compounds, because of their color, were used throughout the world to colorize glass and enamel. Maybe that town had a factory, so the number of poisoned people was anomalously high, though.

Such objects do not represent a threat (you can eat from such plate or bowl without risk) because the quantity of the compound is very small, and it's locked inside the insoluble glassy matrix.

Such practice has diminished greatly mostly because of modern levels of production precaution yielding it economically unfeasible compared to other methods which require less caution.

The most notable problem Schneeberg probably had was with radon. If there was sloppy mining, I'm sure many people would've gotten lung cancer. Before the age of nuclear technology, uranium ore was mined like any other ore, and used for various things. There's nothing special about uranium or its ore when you look at it. It's a metal, has its compounds, etc.

It took decades to realize you could concentrate one isotope and, by strategically placing its encased dioxide pellets in a nuclear moderator, cause a nuclear fission reaction.

They also used unrefined contaminated materials for theire houses as it produced heat... The so called schneeberger disease was the result... you can see that stuff in museums. I checked it

That is certainly not truth. Either you've misinterpreted something, or the museum where you've read that uses lies to boost visits. For nuclear material to produce heat in such measurable quantities it needs to be highly radioactive, so much that you'd be killed quite fast.

Okay, please keep in mind, Pu-238 is NOT fissile and neither are its decay products. It really wouldn't be targeted.

Plutonium, although not toxic as the general population was taught over the decades of fearmongering (there are far worse substances out there), is an extremely toxic heavy metal. It chemical toxicity is on the order or even weaker than the scariest heavy metals out there (thallium, mercury), but it's also radioactive, hence radiotoxic. Spewing lots of alpha-rays, it creates chaos when its ions are binded in an organism. Alpha-rays are very good at ionizing water and creating highly reactive species which destroy any structure in the cell.

The actual metal, if shielded from water and air, is not a threat. It's not like radium from which you have to protect by shields and distance, but dissolve it and eat it and you're a dead man walking.

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Wait, does that mean people with radioactive pacemakers have to have radioactive hazard labels???

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Please re-read my post... And in case you have difficulty with comprehension, I was responding to TheGatesofLogic who focused on the fact that Plutonium-238 isn't fissile. I pointed out that, while it may not be fissile, it is still dangerous. Not only because it is radioactive, but becase it is also a toxic heavy metal. It is restricted by rigorous regulations for a reason.

Sure, it's quite dangerous, but the level of regulation applied to it is way out of scope for its actual danger. Even counting in the radioactivity, there are much-less-regulated chemical compounds which are far more dangerous (in terms of smaller LD50) like Botox.

Also, there's the matter of ease of exposure - an alpha emitter has to get inside your skin to be dangerous, while there are plenty of highly toxic chemicals that can slip right through skin (and some even through gloves like dimethylmercury). Benzene, a common industrial chemical, is a carcinogenic highly-flammable (flash point well below room temperature) which can affect people through skin exposure. Really strong oxidizers will react violently with pretty much anything, including common fire-extinguishing agents and even rocks. Etc.

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