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29 October 2016

Obituary: David Hahn a.k.a. The Radioactive Boy Scout, the King of Großer Unfug

Click images, I dunno what happens.

From its inception -- maybe its very first post -- Vleeptron (the old V without the Z) pledged not to junk up this amazing blog with Obituaries.

Writing obits was my first job on newspapers, I wrote so many obits I acquired the ability to know in advance who was soon going to croak. My late mom read the obits every morning to verify that hers was not on the obit page.

Now that I have reached superannuation, I feel the best way to deal with Death is to ignore it, to deny it. I know for a fact (Freud backs me up on this) that I will never die. Death is something that exclusively happens to Other People.

But Agence-Vleeptron Presse cannot always ignore the passing, from This World to The Next, of remarkable human beings from Planet Earth.

We are certain Aliens from Outer Space have been visiting Earth as galactic tourists because of human activities like those of David Hahn, best known as The Radioactive Boy Scout. (For you Scouts out there, he indeed eventually attained the highest Boy Scout rank, he was an Eagle Scout.)

If you think I'm making fun of this celebrated world-class goofball, I am not. Since learning about his recent passing via my e-list (the Yahoogroup Ionizing Radiation Aficionadi), I've been not only merely sad, but really, most sincerely sad!

None of us Basement & Garage amateur radiation scientists ever thought the Radioactive Boy Scout would live to Old Age -- that ship had sailed by David's 17th birthday -- but he died at age 39, and that's as harsh a blow to our weary grey world as the young death of Glenn Gould.

One of Kant's great contributions to philosophy was the Categorical Imperative. The test of any contemplated act, he said, was

What if everybody did what you're thinking of doing?

(Kant died of syphilis, I think, but maybe he caught it from a toilet seat.)

(CORRECTION: Kant didn't die of syphilis. 
Wikipedia: Nietzsche's mental illness was originally diagnosed as tertiary syphilis. )
If all humans learned and obeyed lifelong the Categorical Imperative, this world would be so grey and dull and boring and well-behaved a planet.

A world with no Großer Unfug, never, nowhere. All human beings have at last become Thoughtful. Nobody gets RUNS WITH SCISSORS or POOR IMPULSE CONTROL on his elementary school report card.

You want to live in Categorical Imperative World? On Categorical Imperative World, Philippe Petit would NEVER have strung a tightrope between the roofs of the World Trade Center in the dark of night, and when morning came, walked back and forth and back again between the 110-story buildings.

(Without a net.)

Down below on a business weekday morn, thousands of ordinary human New Yorkers gawked up in astonishment. It was Lower Manhattan Gridlock for hours down there. At the time, the World Trade Towers were the tallest buildings on Planet Earth.

Earth MUST encourage galactic Alien tourism by recognizing and rewarding and honoring goofballs like this.

Above, David Hahn's police mugshot. The consensus among us Ionizing Radiation Aficionadi is those ghastly pustules all over his face ain't teen boy bad acne.

Also above, Bill (or Ted, I get them mixed up) play Twister with Death (because these teenage losers can't play chess). They beat Death at Twister over and over, and thus escape the Grim Reaper's scythe.

Oh, there is a tiny bit of unconfirmed gossip that David died of drug abuse.

That's total bullshit. Eagle Scouts don't do drugs. One of my closest longtime friends is an Eagle Scout. A glass of fine wine de temps en temps, a hearty craft beer now and then. (Starting at Lawful Drinking Age, which in our Happy College Youth was 18.)

But No Drugs. He took the Eagle Scout Oath. David Hahn died of unnatural causes.

David Hahn 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

David Charles Hahn
Born     October 30, 1976
Commerce Township, MI
Died     September 27, 2016 (aged 39)[1]
Shelby Township, MI
Nationality     American
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, died September 27, 2016), also called the "Radioactive Boy Scout" or the "Nuclear Boy Scout", was 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 when he was stopped on another matter and they found material in his vehicle that troubled them and he warned that it was radioactive.

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 lab was dismantled.[2]

While the incident was not widely publicized initially, it became better known following a 1998 Harper's [magazine] article by journalist Ken Silverstein. Hahn was also the subject of Silverstein's 2004 book, The Radioactive Boy Scout.[2]

Creation of the reactor

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.[3][4]

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.[5]

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.[3]


Hahn became depressed after the scandal, a problem exacerbated by the breakup with his girlfriend and the death by suicide of his mother in early 1996.[2]:189 While he did graduate from high school, he lacked any direction or plans thereafter. His father and stepmother first encouraged him to attend Macomb Community College. He enrolled in a metallurgy program there but frequently skipped classes.

[2]:190 He was then encouraged to join the military, so he enlisted in the Navy, assigned to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise as an undesignated seaman.[3] After a four-year tour, he achieved interior communications specialist with a rank of petty officer, third class.[2]:196

[VLEEPTRON NOTE: In the Navy, such a rank and enlisted advancement is Not Chopped Liver. Hahn was apparently an exemplary sailor, a credit to America.]

Hahn had hoped to pursue a nuclear specialist career.[citation needed] EPA scientists believe that Hahn's life expectancy may have been greatly shortened by his exposure to radioactivity, particularly since he spent large amounts of time in the small, enclosed shed with large amounts of radioactive material and only minimal safety precautions, but he refused their recommendation that he be examined at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station.[3]

After his time on the USS Enterprise, Hahn enlisted in the Marines and was stationed in Japan. After a few years, he was honorably discharged on medical grounds and returned to Michigan. He was later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with bipolar disorder, and took medication for both conditions. [6]

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.[3] In 2004 he expanded it into a book, The Radioactive Boy Scout, which was optioned for a feature film in 2016.[7]

In 1999 University of Chicago physics majors Justin Kasper and Fred Niell, as part of a scavenger hunt that had as one of its items, "a breeder reactor built in a shed", successfully built a similar nuclear reactor which produced trace amounts of plutonium and uranium.[8]

In the CSI: NY episode "Page Turner" the character Lawrence Wagner is based on David Hahn.[9]

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.[citation needed]

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 described the subject as "15 years old", the song is most likely a reference to David Hahn's endeavor.[10]

Hahn's experiments inspired others to attempt similar feats, particularly Taylor Wilson, who at age 14 became the youngest person to produce nuclear fusion.[11]

Later life

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.[12][13][14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17][18]

Hahn died on September 27, 2016, at the age of 39. At the time, he was a resident of Shelby Township, Michigan.[1]

Further reading

    Ghiorso, Albert. Book review of The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor.[19] 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.


"David Charles Hahn". Tributes, Inc. 26 September 2016. Retrieved 4 Oct 2016.
Silverstein, Ken (2004). The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor. Villard. ISBN 0812966600.
Silverstein, Ken (November 1998). "The Radioactive Boy Scout". Harper's Magazine. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
Rauschenberger, Tim (2004-03-16). "The Nuclear Merit Badge". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
Kean, Sam (2010). The Disappearing Spoon. Little, Brown and Co.
Collins, Laura (13 November 2013). "Radioactive Boy Scout' who nearly blew up Detroit is still at it".
Daily Mail News. Associated Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
Pressburg, Matt (2016-09-28). "'Radioactive Boy Scout' Movie About Real Teen Nuke Builder in the Works". The Wrap. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
Olkon, Sara (2011-05-01). "Ready, set ... Scav Hunt!". Retrieved 2016-02-03.
Gail, Nancy. "TV Review: CSI: NY, 'Page Turner'". Blog Critics. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
"Duran Duran". VH1 Storytellers. VH1.
"The Boy Who Played With Fusion". Popular Science. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
Collins, Laura (2013-11-13). "Uh-oh! 'Radioactive Boy Scout' who built a nuclear reactor in his Detroit shed sparking evacuation of 40,000 now wants to invent a lightbulb that lasts 100 years". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
Taylor, Adam (2011-08-02). "The Weird Story Of The Swedish Man Who Tried To Build A Nuclear Reactor In His Kitchen". Business Insider. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
"Man dubbed 'Radioactive Boy Scout' pleads guilty". Detroit Free Press. 2007-08-27. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
"'Radioactive Boy Scout' Charged in Smoke Detector Theft". Fox News. August 4, 2007. Retrieved November 28, 2007.
"Man dubbed 'Radioactive Boy Scout' pleads guilty". Detroit Free Press. Associated Press. August 27, 2007. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved August 27, 2007.
Collins, Laura (November 14, 2013). "Radioactive Boy Lives!". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
"'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.

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