Sunday, March 28, 2010

David Hahn

David Hahn (born October 30, 1976) is a man known for his attempt to build a breeder nuclear reactor in 1994 in his backyard shed in Commerce Township, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, at age 17.

Hahn, nicknamed the "Radioactive Boy Scout", is 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 large, 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.

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