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Boy scout amazes neighborhood by constructing nuclear reactor in his mom’s shed

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In a remarkable yet alarming tale of ingenuity and risk, a young Boy Scout’s quest to earn an atomic energy badge took an unexpected turn into the realm of nuclear physics.

Fifteen-year-old David Charles Hahn, in an extraordinary display of self-sufficiency, embarked on a mission to build a homemade nuclear reactor. This venture, far removed from the traditional scouting skills of knot tying and fire starting, unfolded in his mother’s shed in Michigan during August 1994.

David’s ambitious project, while impressive, quickly spiraled into a hazardous situation. Concerned neighbors, observing him loading materials into his car, mistook his actions for theft and alerted the authorities. However, what the police discovered at David’s home was not stolen goods but a scene brimming with radioactive materials.

Boy scout amazes neighborhood by constructing nuclear reactor in his mom's shed
Credit: YouTube/Weird History

The shed, now a hub of radiological activity, revealed alarming levels of contamination. Radiologists found items emitting as much as 50,000 counts per minute of radioactivity, a figure that underscored the seriousness of David’s unorthodox experiment.

The aftermath of this discovery was immediate and significant. David was apprehended, and a swift operation ensued to remove the hazardous materials. The contents of the shed were disposed of in a desert waste site, and a ‘Superfund clean-up’ was initiated, incurring an estimated cost of $60,000.

Despite the gravity of the situation, David’s father expressed a mix of pride and awe at his son’s scientific capabilities, noting the complexity of what David had attempted to achieve.

Boy scout amazes neighborhood by constructing nuclear reactor in his mom's shed
Credit: Macomb County Jail

The story of the “Radioactive Boy Scout” later inspired a book, chronicling David’s journey into the world of amateur nuclear science. However, David’s life took several tumultuous turns afterward. In 2007, he faced legal troubles unrelated to his nuclear endeavors, and his struggle with mental health issues, alongside substance abuse, led to a tragic end in 2016.

David’s story serves as a striking example of youthful curiosity pushing the boundaries of conventional wisdom and the fine line between innovation and danger.