Today in 1995 was a strange day in Royal Oak, Michigan, outside Detroit.
It’s the day authorities had to stop a 17 year old who had been trying to construct a working nuclear reactor at home.
The fellow who would later be named “the Radioactive Boy Scout” was David Hahn.
His big passion as a kid was chemistry.
According to Harper’s, Hahn’s science teacher recalled that his student’s childhood goal was to possess a sample of every element on the periodic table.
At one point, a relative bought Hahn The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, which sounds like a way to encourage a young person’s interests, except that this book included recipes for nitroglycerin and chloroform.
Things would get even further out of bounds in Hahn’s home lab over time.
Hahn’s dad tried to redirect him toward scouting, and thought maybe becoming an Eagle Scout would help him get on the right track.
Hahn pursued a merit badge in Atomic Energy, which was an actual badge you could get back then.
Scouts earned the badge by learning about how nuclear energy worked, some of the prominent scientists and nuclear safety.
Hahn earned the badge and then, despite that safety element of the program, decided he would build what’s known as a breeder reactor.
That’s a reactor that generates electricity as well as additional nuclear fuel; it’s not usually something that young randos in the suburbs can or should do.
That’s why Hahn decided to pose as a high school physics teacher to gain more knowledge about how breeder reactors worked, and to get some of the ingredients.
This was a time when we didn’t have the internet to fact-check identities in real time, so he was able to obtain technical know-how and materials for his project.
Hahn’s creations never fully worked as intended, but they were strong enough that a Geiger counter could measure radioactivity down the street from his shed.
Hahn was able to keep tinkering with his DIY nuclear apparatus until August 1994.
That’s when someone in town told police they thought they’d seen someone stealing tires from a car.
What they actually found was David Hahn, who had taken some of the elements of his nuclear project out of the shed and put them in the trunk of his car.
At first they were concerned he was building a bomb.
Eventually they realized that they were dealing with radioactive stuff, and the shed was eventually declared a federal Superfund site so that it could be fully cleaned up.
All of which we can sum up by saying, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
Today in 1909, the birthday of Colonel Tom Parker.
He’s been loved for helping to make Elvis Presley a superstar – and loathed for some of the ways he did it.
But you have to admit this one is clever: at the height of Elvis-mania, Parker was selling “I Love Elvis” merchandise to his fans – AND he was selling “I HATE Elvis” badges to his critics.
I’m Brady, a little something for everybody!
The Radioactive Boy Scout (Harpers)
That Time a Teenager Built a Nuclear Reactor in His Backyard (Today I Found Out)