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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of…
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The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard… (2004)

by Ken Silverstein

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4772033,672 (3.77)29
Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science, and his basement experiments were far more ambitious than those of other boys. While working on his Atomic Energy merit 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 breeder reactor in his backyard garden shed. Ken Silverstein re-creates in brilliant detail the months of David's improbable nuclear quest. His unsanctioned and wholly unsupervised project finally sparked an environmental catastrophe that put his town's forty thousand residents at risk and caused the EPA to shut down his lab and bury it at a radioactive dumpsite in Utah.… (more)
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This story is about a boy named David with a loving mother Patty and workaholic dad Ken. When David was 12 his parents got divorced and his Dad married Kathy his stepmom who was more cautious about the experiments he was doing. He got banned from doing experiments in the attic and in the basement because there was explosion damage and chemical burns everywhere. When he went to his mom’s house and her new boyfriend took interest with blowing things up like a makeshift bomb or homemade fireworks. Before his parents got divorced his mom gave him a book called the Golden Book about two Polish scientist who die from cancer because of radioactive materials which was basically his lifeline to science and got him to do experiments. He would conduct these experiments in his potting shed at his mom’s house which he cleaned out and used as a lab. When he was in high school his dream was to collect every element on the periodic table. Also, when he was high school his dad made him join the Boy Scouts to distract him from his experiments but he somehow finds a way to involve science. He collects a lot of the radioactive elements on the periodic table especially radioactive ones. He gets Thorium from old light mantles and radium paint chips. He has no safety gear except a torn up chemical suit and an old gas mask. He builds a neutron gun out of lead to make uranium for his miniturae nuclear breeder. He also gets 100 smoke detectors and a couple glow in the dark clocks for radium. He tells his dad that all the things he was buying was for his boy scout project or for a school project. He also writes letters to NRC, Nuclear Regulatory Commission in his dad’s name to acquire information about how to find radioactive substances in items. When he finished his nuclear reactor, it was producing too much radiation and he shuts it down. His car was checked because the police said someone was carrying a bomb and when they looked inside his trunk it was all his radioactive materials and a sealed box which they thought had a bomb in it. He was taken to jail where his dad picks him up. His dad said the police thought that he was building an atomic bomb because of all of the radioactive material. Then the DPH, Department of Public Health, comes and confiscate all the materials with the bomb squad to check if he was really building an atomic bomb. He finished his merit badges and becomes an Eagle Scout with all the time he had because he was not experimenting. He had no injuries except temporary radiation burns but that was mostly the only injurie he had from all the radiation
In my opinion this book was a book about a boy who dreamed about something and made it real. This book inspired me to think you can make things that people think you can’t. He built a nuclear reactor in his backyard no normal person could do that in fact most scientist could not do that. I think I like to be a chemical scientist when I grow up just because of this book. I think that the way he did things was not safe, though but they are probably cooler than what normal people do. I sometimes think to myself who would do that but I also think that was cool and he is really smart but not cautious of his safety.
  LeeB.G1 | May 30, 2019 |
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. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | Aug 15, 2018 |
This kid was CRAZY and his parents were so checked out and clueless. He could have radiated the whole town! And the fact that a sixteen year old kid could get a hold of such heavy elements--even plutonium, radium and uranium!!!! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
This kid was CRAZY and his parents were so checked out and clueless. He could have radiated the whole town! And the fact that a sixteen year old kid could get a hold of such heavy elements--even plutonium, radium and uranium!!!! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
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? ( )
1 vote Sandydog1 | Jul 19, 2015 |
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Like Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, which sprouted from The New Yorker, The Radioactive Boy Scout originated as a mesmerizing magazine story (published in Harper's) and has been padded to book-length. Do we really need a mini-history of nuclear power plants? Still, Silverstein, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, keeps the narrative snappy, with many telling details and just the right touch of sensationalism to remind readers that what Hahn accomplished was truly surreal.
 
Journalist Ken Silverstein gathered material from extensive interviews with David and his family and from police and EPA reports about this backyard experiment. The story appeared as a Harper's Magazine article in 1998, and now Silverstein has expanded it into some 200 pages.
 
Though David's character is overshadowed by the science, Silverstein's details of atomic history are fascinating.
 
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David Hahn's earliest memory seems appropriate in light of later events; it is of conducting an experiment in the bathroom when he was perhaps four years old.
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