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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor

The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor

Written by Ken Silverstein

Narrated by Jonathan Todd Ross


The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor

Written by Ken Silverstein

Narrated by Jonathan Todd Ross

ratings:
3.5/5 (12 ratings)
Length:
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 28, 2019
ISBN:
9781515940838
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science. While he was working on his Atomic Energy badge for the Boy Scouts, David's obsessive attention turned to nuclear energy. Throwing caution to the wind, he plunged into a new project: building a model nuclear reactor in his backyard garden shed.

Posing as a physics professor, David solicited information on reactor design from the U.S. government and from industry experts. Following blueprints he found in an outdated physics textbook, David cobbled together a crude device that threw off toxic levels of radiation. His wholly unsupervised project finally sparked an environmental emergency that put his town's forty thousand suburbanites at risk. The EPA ended up burying his lab at a radioactive dumpsite in Utah. This offbeat account of ambition and, ultimately, hubris has the narrative energy of a first-rate thriller.

Publisher:
Released:
Jun 28, 2019
ISBN:
9781515940838
Format:
Audiobook

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Reviews

What people think about The Radioactive Boy Scout

3.7
12 ratings / 11 Reviews
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Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    The book is well written and the story is amazing. Ken Silverstein is able to explain the technical information in layman's terms very well. If this book was only a story about David Hahn and how he created a "nuclear reactor" it would have been great. But the Ken Silverstein also added in a lot of information about nuclear energy in general and he had a very biased very of nuclear energy. This detracted from the story.
  • (3/5)
    I couldn't stop reading this odd and scary true story. David, the mad scientist kid, is so single-minded that it's almost surreal. He takes risks that are unforgivable. I'm using the present tense because it's clear from the afterword that he's still collecting radium and other radioactive stuff. His family dynamic is a train wreck, his teachers mostly absent or oblivious, and the whole is a tragedy. The writing is magazine-style, very readable but not particularly noteworthy. An interesting if repelling read.
  • (4/5)
    This cautionary tale of a teenaged Michigan chemistry enthusiast who managed to construct a rudimentary nuclear reactor in his shed incorporates digressions about tangents such as the quest for the breeder reactor, America's enthusiasm for radioactive consumer products a century ago, and a history of the atomic bomb. These are necessary to bring the book up to a scant 200 pages; the teen's story is interesting enough, but really only worthy of a long magazine article in and of itself. The author clearly finds the episode troubling, and quite rightly so; our mad scientist was thwarted quite by accident during a routine traffic stop when the police found an aggregation of junk he had in his trunk and thought it might be a bomb, and, even then, it took authorities months to discover the reactor, and the secrecy-obsessed EPA cleanup crew came within a couple of hours of destroying the radioactive shed without media showing up. Both the main story and the digressions are interestingly related, and the author explains the chemistry involved in the story very clearly, directly, and briefly.
  • (4/5)
    Ok, 'not the best researched or written investigative report, but it is a fast, entertaining read and a 5-star topic. I mean really, 'building a nuclear breeder reactor by a troubled teenager, in a Detroit suburb shed, inspired by a merit badge?
  • (2/5)
    This book started out as a magazine article, and I'm pretty sure it was a GREAT article. As a book, it's only mediocre. Kind of unfocused - long stretches of back story on nuclear power, the Boy Scouts of America, etc. I usually love this sort of detail, but here the presentation is either dry/boring or weirdly axe-grindy. I agree that the collusion b/t the production and regulation arms of the nuclear power body is disgusting, and that the Boy Scouts organization skews conservative...but it's a stretch to connect these things to the narrative at hand.Which itself is also weird. I assume that lots of interviews were conducted to create this book, but the whole thing is told 3rd person. Not a single quote from David? That's awfully odd. The whole thing might be accurate but the way it is written makes it seem like the author did as David did, using only research and details that support the story he'd already decided on. Bleah. This is an amazing story. It shouldn't have been such a preachy slog to read...
  • (4/5)
    In June 1995, 16-1/2 year-old David Hahn built himself a working breeder reactor in his Mother's back-yard garden shed. His chemical and nuclear education was provided by Robert Brent's "The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments" and the local Scout troop. Parental neglect, money from several jobs and his own car contributed to his success. David would drive around town with the geiger counter that he built himself looking for interesting things in the dump and in antique stores. He was fortunate to find an old vial of radium paint in the back of an old clock for his neutron source. He moderated it with tritium taken from the night scopes of guns which he borrowed from a local store. (He was grounded when the scopes didn't work after he returned them and his Dad had to pay for them.) For fuel, he used thorium which he extracted from hundreds of Coleman gas-lanterns.It took a couple of tries with different material, but he produced a reactor that worked. After several weeks of increasing countrates (yes it was critical) he realized he hadn't built a shut-off mechanism. He tried using cobalt drill bits, but that didn't work. He got scared, and disassembled it, when he started to detect increased radiation levels in the driveway, yards away from the garden shed.The book tells the story of David's family environment, his education, the reactor development process, and its ultimate clean-up. It ends rather sadly. He's currently enlisted in the US navy, but they won't let him near the submarine reactors. What a waste.The book is a tad drawn-out, but I enjoyed it.
  • (4/5)
    A very entertaining if not somewhat disturbing true story about a boy who builds a breeder reactor in his potting shed. Lost in life, with missing in action parents, the young scout latches onto nuclear science and chemistry and ignores pretty much everything else. A very entertaining read.
  • (4/5)
    Normally I'm basically disinterested in science matters, but after learning what this book was about - the true story of a high school student who built a nuclear reactor in his mother's backyard - I was intrigued. The author first told of this story in an article in Harper's Magazine and for obvious reasons it garnered a lot of interest in David Hahn's homemade experiments. I'll admit that for me, the book dragged when the author painstakingly described the history of atomic energy, the radium craze, and the birth of nuclear power. Exact occurences in laboratories as well as intricities of isotopes, protons, neutrons, and the like can make a reader's eyes glaze over. These were all vital to the story, however, as Silverstein was always sure to remind the reader that the glossy-eyed optimism of scientists in the early developments of radium (along with the supporters of nuclear energy) mirrored those of David's unrelenting optimism. Silverstein does a remarkable job in showcasing David's psychology and analyzes his odd upbringing from his parents and stepparents, and successfully portrays David as both an immensely brilliant scientist and a zealous, isolated young man. A fascinating read.
  • (4/5)
    The story of David Hahn should be given as a cautionary tale to any parent that feels the best course of action is to stay largely uninvolved in their child's life since they'll likely have friends, school and even some social clubs where someone else is bound to pick up some of the slack when it comes to raising a young adult. Doubly-so for anyone that thinks that their kid is incredibly smart and somehow immune to actual trouble.Silverstein tells David Hahn's story of an obsession with chemistry that eventually led him to attempt to build his own breeder reactor at 17. Not a model, not a lego simulation, not a cute presentation - an actual breeder reactor replete with radioactive materials (including samples of uranium) that eventually led to his backyard shed being declared a Superfund site. Silverstein does a great job of explaining how Hahn got to that level of obsession, how no one thought to stop his experiments and how a teenager would have access to so many of the materials needed to even begin building a breeder reactor. While the story clearly shows all the things that Hahn did wrong, Silverstein also balances this out a bit by giving glimpse into the home and community life that would allow something like this to take place. While not looking to absolve Hahn, what it does is make your wish that someone along the line would have been able to have mentored him and helped him focus his love of chemistry into something more positive.
  • (4/5)
    David Hahn, Boy Scout, almost single-mindedly obsessed with science, attempted to build a breeder reactor – a type of nuclear reactor that produces more of its own fuel than it needs to power it – in his mother’s backyard shed. This is the story of how close he came, and how the extent of his experiments remained undiscovered for so long. Wilfully unaware of the risks, and misguided though his attempt to build a breeder reactor without any sort of ventilation, safeguarding or guidance, it must be said that this degree of focus is the sort that often enables people to achieve great things. It is no less intriguing to read the biography of someone whose dedication and off-the-wall genius peaked a little too early, and fixed on something so enormously unsafe, than someone who took risks and achieved their goal. David Hahn himself is a rather sad subject – that is, until Silverstein depicts him poring over the Golden Book of Science Experiments, passing himself off as a professor to gain insight into technical difficulties and bombarding his neighbourhood with radiation (while thankfully never achieving ‘critical mass’). His reckless desire for a breakthrough and the attendant acclaim are so understandable that the reader can forgive him his blindness and follow Silverstein’s account with a sort of breathless awe at – yes, the stupidity – but also the determination. Aside from David’s story, the best aspect of this book is the insight into the different materials involved in nuclear energy, how they are formed, how they react and decay, what actually happens to them during processes involving irradiation or detonation… the science behind the story and the enthusiasm for the science that Silverstein brings to the book make this a biography of nuclear experimentation as much as the story of David’s obsession.
  • (3/5)
    This is the unbelievable story of David Hahn, a misguided youth who attempted to build a small breeder reactor in his mom's garden shed. He began his journey when given a copy of "The Golden Book of Chemistry," a book long since out of print and essentially banned as dangerous.Hahn was obsessed with Chemistry and Physics, and his attempt to build a breeder reactor had its genesis in his path to becoming an Eagle Scout, when he was working on his Atomic Energy merit badge. The project culminates in a process that puts the entire neighborhood in danger.This true story was not covered much in the media and Silverstein does a good job of laying out both Hahn's back story and the facts of the case. He also gives a good general history of atomic energy. However, I gave this book 3 stars out of 5 mainly because Silverstein let his personal bias against nuclear power become a distraction in an otherwise fascinating story.