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This first paper, of two, describes a three-dimensional finite element computer model representing nonhomogeneous electrical conductivity of the human thorax. The spinal canal is treated in detail, taking account of various tissue types and other biological materials. Solutions are presented for the electrical fields generated within the spinal cord from bipolar epidural electrodes. Included in an Appendix is a validation study which compares experimental data in the literature, for subdural electrode arrays in a monkey, to theoretical solutions following the same method as the main work.