I recall from T2 where John asks "How long do you live, I mean last?" the T-800 answers that they last about 120 years on one power cell, which is nuclear. In T3, we see the explosion of this cell.

But that brings some questions. If the cell is nuclear, it would emit strong radiation. How does T-800 survive this radiation? I mean, for modern electronics, radiation is even more dangerous than it is for people.

Is the power cell is in the special isolation unit, that does not let through the radiation? But since the power cell was damaged by the T-1000 in T-2 using a stick, then why didn't that affect the T-800's CPU?

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    I don't recall any mention of the fuel cells being nuclear in either film... Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 13:23
  • I believe the power cells in Revolution were nuclear. I recall them having a radioactive trefoil symbol on them.
    – Chad Levy
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 7:50
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    "for modern electronics, radiation is even more dangerous than it is for people." -- no; unexpected radiation can cause problems, but this is a known source that can be shielded against/compensated for /designed for. I think you are confusing 'radiation' with the effects of an electromagnetic pulse or sudden bursts of wide bands of radiation (massive sunspots, for example) -- a constant source of known radiation can be designed for.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 12:32
  • "If the cell is nuclear, it would emit strong radiation." is the flaw in your reasoning.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 12:07

3 Answers 3


Radiation can be dangerous to electronics but that's a question of design and materials. The T800, being a combat unit, has a reinforced, armored shell. Radiation is probably his least concern.

Also not all nuclear reactions produce the same types and amounts of radiation. Many types of radiation are mostly harmless. Heat, for example. Alpha decay can be blocked with a piece of paper. Beta can be blocked by a thin sheet of metal.

In space probes, the radioactive batteries can interfere with the sensors but that doesn't damage them - it just adds noise to the data which can make it useless for scientists.

Then, the T800 is a machine. When a part fails, he can see a workshop for a replacement. Since it's 100% designed, all these fragile parts will be easy to replace. And when the battery lasts 120 years, that doesn't mean the rest will (especially not when under heavy fire). Chances are that the shell will last many millenia but cables need to be replaced every few years. The chips might need replacement every 3-50 years (that's about what today's hardware does) but that's not a problem when you can copy the memories easily.

There is no place where it says "emits strong radiation". When a cell is designed to generate energy for such a prolonged time, it will emit radiation at a constant and probably pretty low rate. High amounts of radiation are coupled with violent processes (like the exploding cell in the third movie or a solar flare). This isn't something that you'll want during standard operation.

  • That'd be alpha, to be blocked by a sheet of paper. Beta would need a thin metal plate. Gamma is what needs lead or concrete and is the most dangerous. Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 6:45
  • @MirceaChirea: Thanks, fixed. Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 7:32
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    @MirceaChirea: "is the most dangerous" depends on what you consider. When ingested, α-emmiters are generally the most harmful. When close to the skin, β is problematic. γ-radiation, because it interacts relatively weakly with matter, is in principle least dangerous to living cells, only, as you say, it's hardest to conceal. Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:37

In T1, when Sarah Connor crushes the first T800 in the hydraulic press, both cells should have been damaged, and there should have been a catastrophic failure. This obviously did not happen so we know that this version of the T800 did not come with the same power supply as we see in T3. Because Judgement Day was not postponed by this event, technology available to SkyNet did not improve for T2 in the T800.

At the end of T2, Judgement day is postponed, and humanity continues to innovate. New technology is available for when SkyNet become self aware in T3. This new technology included much better processing power in modern computer systems, as well as an exponential increase in processing nodes on the internet between the original 1997 J-Day and the 2004 J-day. SkyNet had a better start in the altered future, and could therefore dedicate more resources to developing better technology earlier on in its existence, possibly altering the design of the T800 to include previously unavailable technologies.

In T3, when the Terminator was explaining the damage to John Connor, he explains that he is powered by two hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells are non nuclear, but instead rely on chemical reactions to generate immense heat for power. This is evidenced in the movies by the fuel cells glowing a molten red color.

In T:Salvation, John Connor explains that the Terminator fuel cells are nuclear. This is an easy mistake to make as many people who saw T3 witnessed the explosion and thought "Hey, that was a tiny hydrogen bomb!" John Connor, as we know, is not a nuclear physicist and probably would not be able to explain the differences between a hydrogen bomb and a hydrogen fuel cell.

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    +1 for the mushroom cloud comment. Sufficiently-large non-nuclear explosions produce mushroom clouds.
    – Chad Levy
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 7:53
  • "In T1, when Sarah Connor crushes the first T800 in the hydraulic press, both cells should have been damaged, and there should have been a catastrophic failure." How do we know that both cells were not destroyed? Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 8:08

T1 and T2 arnold are 800 Series Terminators which are powered by an Iridium power cell (which I'm guessing uses radioactive decay to generate heat and through it powering the android)

T3 arnold is a 850 Series Terminators running on a Hydrogen power cell which when ruptured causes the explosion seen in the movie.

On a side note in both T3 and Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles we see Sarah ultimately dies from some form of cancer which could be explained by the possible exposure to radiation when she crushed the first T-800 in the cyberdine building in the first movie

  • Well, cancer is a very common illness, and there are a lot of carcinogenic sources. One's chances of developing cancer over a lifetime is 38% for females and 43% for males. If the first T-800 had a nuclear power source, she would have developed symptoms of acute radiation poisoning within days of its destruction. Plus, each time her death was after J-day, meaning after heavy nuclear bombardment. Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 22:23
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    @Lèsemajesté in T3, SC died before the events of the film (thus before J-day). Cancer is very common, sure, but I do think it was deliberately used to hint at a Terminator-induced cause. Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:42
  • @leftaroundabout: Sorry, you're right about that one. I misread the Wikia. She died after the original J-day date, but before the one in that timeline. Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:09

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