A boy and his homemade nuclear reactor

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I spent several days trying to verify this. Harper's did reluctantly admit to having published it. However a search of government records, newspaper accounts, etc did not corroborate the story. There were roughly similar incidences that were some proximate in time and geography. From my research it appears something did happen but it was not nearly as good a story as the version presented above.
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Well, rather extensive articles have been printed about the story in the last decade. One in particular was in Reader's Digest within the past few years. It did have photos of newspaper articles about the lad as I recall. If you are really interested in checking further, perhaps the Digest would be a place to start.
-- Dennis
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It must be true - the CSM freaked:
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And, for those who eschew googlegroups, here's the original link:
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Also, to "president": Do not click the broken reply link at the bottom of the post - click the show options link at the top, then click _that_ reply link - that way, it quotes context. Then, trim as needed and bottom-post. Thanks.
Cheers! Rich
Reply to
Rich Grise
I thought for a moment I was going to find a picture of your son crouching over his homebrew reactor :-D.
Reply to
Christopher Tidy
lol! that was a good one chris, ignoramus' recent "electric or science toy kits that are decent" post. lol. ignormaus... "hey guys, i gathered up a bunch or really cool stuff and made a nuclear reactor kit for my son."
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William Wixon
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I really like the story. It is a great story. I just tried to follow it up with EPA records, Atomic Energy records, Detroit Free Press, etc. I didn't have much luck. I couldn't find the town. I did find one incident that was somewhat similar. It may have been a boy scout running the business painting radium dials.
Neither the state or the federal EPA have any record that matches his very well. Some stories say that the names and site were changed to protect the people involved but that is illegal.
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Lake Radiation Site, Michigan In 1994 EPA Region 5 and the Michigan Department of Public Health discovered a home in Bear Lake, Michigan, that was heavily contaminated with radium as the result of a home business that repaired and repainted radium aircraft dials.
In 1995, under an emergency, time-critical removal action, EPA relocated the family an attempted to decontaminate their possessions, home , and land. The possessions could not be decontaminated and were disposed of as radioactive waste. The home was demolished and the debris and large volumes of soil from the property were also disposed of as radioactive waste.
Commerce Township, MI is 228 miles away.
I can't find any "golf manor" in Michigan.
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Based on the articles details, this guy never had a chance. Wrong materials and insufficient knowledge. But like a stupid rat he could collect enough material to poison himself.
Reply to
Shabtai Evan
Exactly. The article says: "Ignoring safety, David mixed his radium and americium with beryllium and aluminum, all of which he wrapped in aluminum foil, forming a makeshift reactor core. He surrounded this radioactive ball with a blanket of small foil-wrapped cubes of thorium ash and uranium powder, tenuously held together with duct tape."
A container of random radioactive stuff (while possibly dangerous) is no more a "nuclear reactor" than a cardboard box filled with random mechanical and electrical parts is a CNC machine. To produce a nuclear chain reaction, you need to have a critical mass of some pretty specific stuff, coupled with a proper design. Anything less, and all you have is a pile of (possibly) radioactive crap.
Reply to
Vaughn Simon
Granted, calling the mess a "reactor core" is loverly for inciting "OH MY GOD!" reactions, since it isnt' even close - but John Q. Public isn't likely to make it past "nuclear" without starting to cringe and whine about there needing to be a law. The Detroit Free Press/Detroit News has *LONG* been known by those familiar with them for trying to get *EXACTLY* that sort of reaction. (no pun intended)
His goal with this "core" wasn't either a chain reaction *OR* fission - He was attempting (in a rather clever fashion, no less) to use the thing to irradiate, and thereby "hop up", his thorium and low-grade uranium for later use as a fissionable when he actually started on the "let's see if we can make a scale model nuclear reactor" part of his project.
If you take the time to read through the article completely, you'll find that David was never successful in constructing a working reactor with functional nuclear fuel. He was "busted" before he even made an attempt in that direction. However, he was *EXTREMELY* successful at putting together most of what he would have needed had he been able to continue his experiments. Even money says that if he'd been left alone, he would have succeeded quite well, earning that merit badge (and then some) and possibly even making a breakthrough such as will never be made in today's "Oh no! It's nuclear/radioactive! Shut it down, lock it up, bury it deep, and shoot the guy that put it together" environment.
I give the kid LOTS of credit - He set out to achieve a goal, and was doing a damn fine job of making it happen using easily available materials and technology.
Reply to
Don Bruder
From my reading of the incident, he was not interested in producing a hot chain reaction and knew he did not have a critical mass. He was interested in irradiating some of the material in the reactor to produce U-233 from the thorium and Pu-239 from the U-238, which are themselves radioactive and easier to fission. Hence the "breeder" designation.
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Richard Henry
That's right Don. He was not putting together a nuclear chain reactor, he was putting together a breeder and he succeeded. He was able to change the materials in desired direction, as evidenced by dramatic rise in radiation level as his breeding process went on.
While I applaud his achievement and "social engineering" skills, he made some unforgivable mistakes in containing radiation.
Not my cup of tea, but very admirable.
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But a bucket of crap is all you need to make for a very messy bomb / contamination thing. Thus - having a full blown state of the art this or that isn't needed.
Martin Eastburn @ home at Lions' Lair with our computer lionslair at consolidated dot net NRA LOH & Endowment Member NRA Second Amendment Task Force Charter Founder IHMSA and NRA Metallic Silhouette maker & member
Vaughn Sim>
Reply to
Martin H. Eastburn
To me he seems like some sort of fixated dimwit.
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" snipped-for-privacy@carbideprocessors.com" wrote in news: snipped-for-privacy@t31g2000cwb.googlegroups.com:
I found it on the Detroit Free Press site with no trouble. Click on Archives, then select 1995 for the year and type in David Hahn. You get:
EPA CLEANS OUT TEEN'S RADIOACTIVE LAB July 1, 1995 ?? 424 words ?? ID: 9501240819 A Clinton Township teenager had been experimenting in his garden-shed laboratory for four years before the Environmental Protection Agency hauled away 39 barrels of low-level radioactive material this week.. It took three days and $50,000 for EPA workers in protective suits to empty the shed, in his mother's Pinto Drive backyard in Commerce Township, of the containers. . David Hahn, 18, who lives on Cooper Drive in Clinton Township, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
If you want to read more you have to buy it.
I found the town on Microsoft Streets and Trips with no trouble. I even found the street.
Reply to
D Murphy
In rec.crafts.metalworking,sci.electronics.design, On Wed, 12 Apr 2006 14:12:38 GMT, Ignoramus12615 wrote:
Thanks, a real interesting thread. And just in time for Easter, I I've found what must be a neighbor and his rabbit:
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Reply to
Ben Bradley
Twenty Years After Chernobyl
Thursday, April 13, 2006 By Steven Milloy
April 26 marks the 20th anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Anti-nuclear activists are still trying to turn Chernobyl into a bigger disaster than it really was.
Although the Number Four nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded just before dawn on April 26, 1986, Soviet secrecy prevented the world from learning about the accident for days. Once details began to emerge, however, the anti-nuclear scare machine swung into action.
Three days after the accident Greenpeace "scientists" predicted the accident would cause 10,000 people to get cancer over a 20-year period within a 625-mile radius of the plant. Greenpeace also estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 people in Sweden would develop cancer over a 30-year period from the radioactive fallout.
At the same time, Helen Caldicott, president emeritus of the anti-nuclear Physicians for Social Responsibility, predicted the accident would cause almost 300,000 cancers in 5 to 50 years and cause almost 1 million people either to be rendered sterile or mentally retarded, or to develop radiation sickness, menstrual problems and other health problems.
University of California-Berkeley medical physicist and nuclear power critic Dr. John Gofman made the most dire forecast. He predicted at an American Chemical Society meeting that the Chernobyl accident would cause 1 million cancers worldwide, half of them fatal.
But the reality of the health consequences of the Chernobyl accident seems to be quite different than predicted by the anti-nuke crowd.
As of mid-2005, fewer than 50 deaths were attributed to radiation from the accident - that's according to a report, entitled "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts," produced by an international team of 100 scientists working under the auspices of the United Nations. Almost all of those 50 deaths were rescue workers who were highly exposed to radiation and died within months of the accident.
So far, there have been about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children. But except for nine deaths, all of those with thyroid cancer have recovered, according to the report.
Despite the UN report, the anti-nuclear mob hasn't given up on Chernobyl scaremongering.
According to a March 25 report in The Guardian (UK), Greenpeace and others are set to issue a report around the 20th anniversary of the accident claiming that at least 500,000 people may have already died as a result of the accident.
Ukraine's government appears to be on board with the casualty inflation game, perhaps looking for more international aid for the economically-struggling former Soviet republic.
The Guardian article quoted the deputy head of the Ukraine National Commission for Radiation Protection as touting the 500,000-deaths figure. A spokesman for the Ukraine government's Scientific Center for Radiation Medicine told The Guardian, "We're overwhelmed by thyroid cancers, leukemias and genetic mutations that are not recorded in the [UN] data and which were practically unknown 20 years ago."
Putting aside the anti-nuclear movement's track record of making wild claims and predictions in order advance its political agenda, I put more credence in the UN's estimates because it squares with what we know about real-life exposures to high levels of radiation.
Among the more than 86,000 survivors of the atomic bomb blasts that ended World War II, for example, "only" about 500 or so "extra" cancers have occurred since 1950. Exposure to high-levels of radiation does increase cancer risk, but only slightly.
There is no doubt that Chernobyl was a disaster, but it was not one of mythical proportions.
Chernobyl and Three Mile Island - the U.S. nuclear plant that accidentally released a small amount radiation in 1979 - are examples of how the anti-nuclear lobby takes every available opportunity to scare the public about nuclear power.
But no one was harmed by the incident at Three Mile Island. The Chernobyl accident can be chalked up to deficiencies in its Soviet-era design and operation. Neither reflect poorly on the track record of safety demonstrated by nuclear power plants designed, built and operated in countries like the U.S., U.K., France and Japan.
It's quite ironic that while Greenpeace squawks about the need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in order to avert the much-dreaded global warming, the group continues spreading fear about greenhouse gas-free nuclear power plants - the only practical alternative to burning fossil fuels for producing electricity.
Apparently, Greenpeace's solution to our energy problems is simply to turn the lights off - for good.
Reply to
Steve W.
Got a chip on your shoulder?
Reply to
Richard Henry
Steve's pasted article states (in part): But no one was harmed by the incident at Three Mile Island.
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article states (in part): Pennsylvania Health Commissioner Gordon MacLeod publicly stated that downwind from the plant the number of babies born with hypothyroidism jumped from nine in the nine months before the accident to 20 in the nine months after. MacLeod reasoned that the thyroid gland was affected by the large amount of thyroid-seeking iodine 131 released from the plant. He also emphasized the increase in deaths of infants within a 10-mile radius, as did Ernest Sternglass, a University of Pittsburgh physicist. In the six months after the accident, 31 infants living within 10 miles of the plant died, more than double the 14 deaths during the same six-month period the previous year.
Reply to
Ken Davey

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