The Radioactive Boy Scout: When a Teenager Attempts to Build a Breeder Reactor

In this "Report", Ken Silverstein relates the case of David Hahn (apparently not related to Otto) whose quest for an Atomic Energy merit badge escalated into an attempt to build a working model of a breeder reactor. According to Mr. Silverstein, this suburban Detroit teenager was able to acquire enough radioactive material to create a device whose growing (!) radioactivity was detectable "five doors away" with a homemade Geiger counter and to turn his neighborhood into a mini-Superfund site. Silverstein says that Hahn did his project combining aluminium and beryllium foil with (1) Americium-241 from a hundred or so smoke detectors (2) a "quarter trunkload" of pitchblende (sic) from the shores of Lake Huron (3) a few samples of "black ore" - either pitchblende or uranium dioxide (4) thorium-232 extracted from "thousands" of gas lantern mantles (5) a vial of radium paint used for clock dials (6) tritium extracted from several "glow-in-the-dark" gun and bow sights. I am very skeptical of this account. What do you think?

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Ken Silverstein

Publication Date: 
Sunday, November 1, 1998