Two U.S. companies participated in a program for the creation of an artificial heart powered with an atomic engine in the 70s of last century.
The National Heart Institute and the International Atomic Energy Agency, both state-funded institutions, developed between 1967 and 1977 projects with the ambition to use the energy generated by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 isotope for artificial heart pumped blood without reloading the motor by external sources.
Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario Shelley McKellar talks about these ambitious projects in an article in the journal Technology and Culture ‘.
Two companies, Westinghouse Electric and McDonnell-Douglas, developed their concepts for government project ensuring that nuclear energy “is the only solution to the energy problem of implanted devices,” says Shelley McKellar, adding that until now the heart implant ideal remains the body of another person.
At that time, many possibilities were investigated to apply atomic energy, not only in nuclear plants. “We were always attentive to the new challenges in implementing our solutions,” said project coordinator of the Atomic Energy Commission, William Mott, quoted in the article by McKellar.
Despite the initial optimism of the scientists, the program was shut down due to technical difficulties to meet the challenge, the infighting in the government and changing public opinion about nuclear energy and organ transplantation, among other factors, McKellar concludes.