David Hahn bigraphy, stories - United States Marine

David Hahn : biography

October 30, 1976 -

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 in the Boy Scouts of America 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.

In culture

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.

In the CSI: NY episode "Page Turner" the character Lawrence Wagner is based on David Hahn.

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.

2007 arrest

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.

Creation of the reactor

Hahn was an Eagle 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 purchasedKen Silverstein, . Harper's Magazine, November 1998 batteries to purify the thorium ash using a Bunsen burner.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.

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.Sam Kean. The Disappearing Spoon (Little, Brown and Co, 2010).

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.


After dropping out of community college, Hahn joined the Navy, assigned to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier as an undesignated seaman.

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.

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