Boy Scout Tried To Build a Nuclear Reactor in His Backyard - Life of David Hahn (Video)
Hahn was a Boy Scout who was fascinated by chemistry and spent years conducting amateur chemistry experiments, 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. He later received a merit badge in Atomic Energy and became fascinated with the idea of creating a breeder reactor in his home. 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 (a 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 high school teacher 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 came anywhere near reaching critical mass, it ended up emitting dangerous levels of radiation, 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 a Superfund hazardous materials cleanup site, dismantled the shed and its contents and buried them as low-level radioactive waste in Utah. However, his mother, fearful that she would lose her house if the full extent of the radiation were known, collected the majority of the radioactive material and threw it away in the conventional garbage, which officials did not know. Hahn refused medical evaluation for radiation exposure.
On August 1, 2007, Hahn was arrested in Clinton Township, Michigan, for larceny, in relation to a matter involving a number of smoke detectors, allegedly removed from the halls of his apartment building. His intention was to obtain americium from them. In his mug shot, his face is covered with sores which investigators believe are 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 in the psychiatric unit of Macomb County Jail. Hahn died on September 27, 2016, at the age of 39. At the time, he was a resident of Shelby Township, Michigan.
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