|Born||October 30, 1976|
|Education||Macomb Community College|
|Known for||Attempting to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard at the age of 17|
David Charles Hahn (born October 30, 1976), also called the "Radioactive Boy Scout" or the "Nuclear Boy Scout", is an American who attempted to build a homemade breeder nuclear reactor in 1994, at age 17. A scout in the Boy Scouts of America, Hahn conducted his experiments in secret in a backyard shed at his mother's house in Commerce Township, Michigan. While his reactor never reached critical mass, Hahn attracted the attention of local police who found radioactive materials in the trunk of his car. His mother's property was cleaned up by the Environmental Protection Agency ten months later as a Superfund cleanup site. Hahn attained Eagle Scout rank shortly after his reactor was dismantled.
While the incident was not widely publicized initially, it became better known following a 1998 Harper's article by journalist Ken Silverstein. Hahn is also the eponymous subject of Silverstein's 2004 book, The Radioactive Boy Scout.
Creation of the reactor
Hahn was a Boy Scout who received a merit badge in Atomic Energy and spent years tinkering with basement chemistry which sometimes resulted in small explosions and other mishaps. He was inspired in part by reading The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, and tried to collect samples of every element in the periodic table, including the radioactive ones. Hahn diligently amassed this radioactive material by collecting small amounts from household products, such as americium from smoke detectors, thorium from camping lantern mantles, radium from clocks and tritium (as neutron moderator) from gunsights. His "reactor" was a bored-out block of lead, and he used lithium from $1,000 worth of purchased batteries to purify the thorium ash using a Bunsen burner.
Hahn posed as an adult scientist or professor to gain the trust of many professionals in letters, despite the presence of misspellings and obvious errors in his letters to them. Hahn ultimately hoped to create a breeder reactor, using low-level isotopes to transform samples of thorium and uranium into fissionable isotopes.
Although his homemade reactor never achieved critical mass, it ended up emitting dangerous levels of radioactivity, likely well over 1,000 times normal background radiation. Alarmed, Hahn began to dismantle his experiments, but a chance encounter with police led to the discovery of his activities, which triggered a Federal Radiological Emergency Response involving the FBI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. On June 26, 1995 the United States Environmental Protection Agency, having designated Hahn's mother's property as a Superfund hazardous materials cleanup site, dismantled the shed and its contents and buried them as low-level radioactive waste in Utah. Hahn refused medical evaluation for radiation exposure.
Hahn had hoped to pursue a nuclear specialist career. EPA scientists believe that Hahn may have exceeded the lifetime dosage for thorium exposure, but he refused their recommendation that he be examined at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station.
The incident received scant media attention at the time, but was widely disseminated after writer Ken Silverstein published an article about the incident in Harper's Magazine in 1998. In 2004 he expanded it into a book, The Radioactive Boy Scout.
A television documentary, The Nuclear Boyscout, aired on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom in 2003. In it, Hahn reenacted some of his methods for the camera. Though planned to air on the Discovery Channel, the program has not yet been broadcast in the United States.
Simon Le Bon of the English rock band Duran Duran noted in a 2000 performance on VH1 Storytellers that the lyrics to the band's song "Playing With Uranium" are in reference to a "schoolboy" who "built a nuclear reactor in his garden shed" years earlier. Though Le Bon misidentifies the subject as "15 years old," the song is most likely a reference to David Hahn's endeavor.
On August 1, 2007, Hahn was arrested in Clinton Township, Michigan for larceny, in relation to a matter involving several smoke detectors, allegedly removed from the halls of his apartment building. His intention was to obtain americium, a radioactive substance, from the detectors. In his mug shot, his face is covered with sores which investigators claim are possibly from exposure to radioactive materials. During a Circuit Court hearing, Hahn pleaded guilty to attempted larceny of a building. The court’s online docket said prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to time served and enter an inpatient treatment facility. Under terms of the plea, the original charge of larceny of a building would be dismissed at sentencing, scheduled for October 4. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail for attempted larceny. Court records stated that his sentence would be delayed by six months while Hahn underwent medical treatment.
- Ghiorso, Albert. Book review of The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor. August 9, 2004, issue of Chemical and Engineering News (pp. 36–37). An analysis is given of some of Hahn's work by Ghiorso, who has been involved in the discovery of about a dozen transuranium elements.
- Ken Silverstein (2004) The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor. Villard. ISBN 0-8129-6660-0.
- Ken Silverstein, The Radioactive Boy Scout: When a teenager attempts to build a breeder reactor. Harper's Magazine, November 1998
- Sam Kean. The Disappearing Spoon (Little, Brown and Co, 2010).
- Gail, Nancy. "TV Review: CSI: NY - "Page Turner"". blogcritics.org. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
- Documentary at eagletv.co.uk
- "Duran Duran Storytellers". YouTube. Retrieved June 18, 2013.
- "'Radioactive Boy Scout' Charged in Smoke Detector Theft". Fox News. August 4, 2007. Retrieved November 28, 2007.
- Associated Press (August 27, 2007). "Man dubbed 'Radioactive Boy Scout' pleads guilty". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved August 27, 2007.
- "'Radioactive Boy Scout' Sentenced to 90 Days for Stealing Smoke Detectors". Fox News. October 4, 2007. Retrieved November 28, 2007.
- "Book review of The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor". Chemical and engineering news. Retrieved June 21, 2011.
- 'The Nuclear Boyscout' from Channel 4
- 'The nuclear merit badge' — Christian Science Monitor
- Smoke Detectors and a Radioactive Boyscout
- The Radioactive Boy Scout