David Hahn (born October 1976) attempted to build a nuclear breeder reactor in 1994 in his backyard shed in Commerce Township, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, at the age of 17.
Hahn, nicknamed the “Radioactive Boy Scout”, is an Eagle Scout who had previously earned a merit badge in Atomic Energy and had spent years tinkering with basement chemistry which included small explosions. Furthering his experiments, Hahn diligently amassed radioactive material by collecting small amounts from (occasionally stolen) household products, such as americium from smoke detectors, thorium from camping lantern mantles, and radium from clocks and gunsights. His “reactor” was a large, cored-out block of lead, and he used $1000 worth of lithium from batteries to purify the thorium ash in a bunsen burner.
Hahn posed as a legitimate adult scientist or teacher to gain the trust of many professionals, despite the presence of misspellings and obvious errors in his letters. Hahn ultimately hoped to create a breeder reactor, using low-level isotopes to transform samples of thorium and uranium into fissionable isotopes.
Although his home-made reactor never achieved criticality, it ended up emitting toxic levels of radioactivity, around 1000 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 involving the FBI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The 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.
(via the blurb about him in the previous post)