Plutonic Man

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By Roger Snodgrass

Ev Nienhouse is not a freak. Extraordinary, remarkable and unusual yes, but not monstrous, even though he is walking around with 1/200 of an ounce of plutonium-238 lodged in his chest.


Nienhouse returns to Los Alamos for an encore of his talk here in September on “Living with a Nuclear Powered Heart Pacemaker.” He will speak at the Bradbury Museum Thursday at 2 p.m.


When Nienhouse was 39 he had two nearly fatal cardiac arrests and was taken to the hospital in Michigan to be examined for a suspected heart attack. But  the problem turned out to be his misfiring bodily electrical system and he needed a pacemaker to keep his heart functioning properly.


“At that time, the only pacemakers were powered by nickel-cadmium batteries,” he said, “which meant that every two years the patient had to go in for general surgery to have the battery replaced. Later, lithium batteries became available that extended the period between surgeries to 10 years, not counting occasional problems with the wiring.


In an interview this week, Nienhouse explained that he has had a plutonium-powered pacemaker for 33 years, without ever having to have it serviced.


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