The “Radioactive Boy Scout” who Built a Nuclear Reactor in his Back Yard

The “Radioactive Boy Scout” who Built a Nuclear Reactor in his Back Yard

Everyone needs a hobby, right? Something like keeping boredom away, improving your mental health and abilities, helping your social development. Hobby is great. Just … try to choose one that can’t arrest you for the right to an atomic bomb. In 1994, David Han was a 17-year-old Boy Scout from Michigan interested in science. He was given a book seven years ago: The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, and has been detained ever since.

You might be thinking, “Big deal,” I’ve always loved science – that’s why I’m on a website called I Fugging LoveScience.com.” But here’s the difference: where many people express their love for science by sharing funny memes on social media or politely trolling Bill Nike, David Han – Well, David Han built a breeder furnace in his backyard. A breeder reactor is a type of nuclear reactor that produces more fossil fuels than that. This may seem impossible, but breeder reactors have been functioning for at least 75 years.

It works using a core of plutonium-239 surrounded by a blanket of uranium-238: as plutonium decays and its lost neutrons are absorbed by uranium. It converts uranium-238 to uranium-239, a highly unstable uranium isotope that decays into neptunium-239 through very rapid beta decay. This Neptunium isotope is more stable than uranium-239, but still has a half-life of about 57 hours: another round of beta decay converts Neptunium-239 back to plutonium-239, which is used to fill the fuel core. If you think these are too complicated for a boy scout to mess with his mother’s potting shed, you’re not alone.

Han was arrested in August 1994, when police discovered what he thought was a “potentially advanced explosive device” in the trunk of their car (it wasn’t hyperbole in the acquaintance), and very quickly he just didn’t get himself into trouble. Local police but also the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Nuclear Control Commission, FBI and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Michigan State Police Bomb Squad and the State Department of Health’s investigation of his vehicle found a sufficient concentration of the radioactive substances thorium and americium to automatically trigger the federal radiological emergency response plan; after questioning, Han explained that he only wanted to get his Aggall Scout badge. When state radiological experts examined Han’s lab (aka Mother’s Potting Shed), they found levels of radioactive material that were a thousand times more registered than normal background radiation.

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