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Power United States Science

'Radioactive Boy Scout' Reportedly Passes Away At Age 39 (harpers.org) 182

A funeral notice quietly appeared on Tributes.com recently, announcing the death of David Charles Hahn. Though no cause of death was provided, when he was 17 Hahn "achieved some notoriety as a teenage Boy Scout with his attempt to build a nuclear reactor in his garden shed," remembers Slashdot reader braindrainbahrain: His "reactor" ended when the EPA declared his backyard as a Superfund cleanup site due to hazardous levels of radiation. His story was captured in a Harper's magazine article, and later the book "The Radioactive Boy Scout" by Ken Silverstein. It was also a Slashdot topic...
Hahn had used materials from household products like lithium batteries, smoke detectors, and old radium clocks, according to Wikipedia, which adds that shortly after Hahn's lab was dismantled, he became an Eagle Scout.
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'Radioactive Boy Scout' Reportedly Passes Away At Age 39

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  • Well shit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArylAkamov ( 4036877 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @08:54PM (#53278107)

    I always enjoyed reading his story when I was younger, it was an inspiration. It showed what a determined kid could do given enough knowledge and motivation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward


      I always enjoyed reading his story when I was younger, it was an inspiration. It showed what a determined kid could do given enough knowledge and motivation.

      I also remember reading the story. My reaction was one of horror because of the extremely toxic substances this guy was obsessed with. And now it seems my horror has turned into reality. From what I recall about him several years ago, he was already in poor health.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        His first story piqued my curiosity, but his second cemented my feelings he loved the limelight. Or at least, enjoyed the attention he garnered from his first endeavors.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          His first story piqued my curiosity, but his second cemented my feelings he loved the limelight. Or at least, enjoyed the attention he garnered from his first endeavors.

          Ironically, that limelight had a rather radioactive glow about it...

        • by Cryacin ( 657549 )
          Yes, radiation is often illustrated with a lime green.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      you were inspired by a lunatic

      • Re:Well shit. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @10:41PM (#53278465)

        As we all are, constantly. Madame Curie knew what she was doing wasn't healthy, too.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          This guy was no Madame Curie. More like a reckless fool. The full dangers of radiation weren't well understood until perhaps the 50s or 60s. This guy really had no excuse, and was obviously reckless. Madame Curie lived in a time when nobody really suspected how dangerous this stuff was. For gods sake, women put radium covered painbrushes to sharpen the tip! And even then they didn't die of the radiation, they died of radium poisoning!

          • He was the madman to her madam?
          • Yes.

            I was inspired by him as well, that I could do nearly anything I wanted... but also to apply substantially more caution to my endeavors.

            FWIW he's only a year younger than me and I easily could have been him, except I was busy with tesla coils and such instead...

            A reactor was seriously on my todo list, but generally more the farnsworth fusor design.

            -nB

        • At the time she did it, she knew that it was no more unhealthy than any other boiling up of tonnes of rock in fuming nitric acid. Which is not the healthiest of occupations, but not because of the radioactivity of fuming nitric acid.

          Actually, radiologists who've since examined the case suggest that Marie Curie's fatal cancer was most likelt due to her medal-winning work as a volunteer X-ray operator during the Great War. (advertised as "The War to End War" without a word of irony. That time.) Those battlef

    • by johanw ( 1001493 )

      I assume he should have read more articles about radiation poisoning and not swallowing alpha emitters.

  • Wasn't looking well (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @08:58PM (#53278123) Homepage

    He wasn't looking well [dailymail.co.uk] the last tine he was arrested for... wait for it... stealing once again [foxnews.com] to try to get material for a new reactor.

    He ended up being hospitalized for bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, and had been on medication for schizophrenia ever since. His mother was also schizophrenic. He led an interesting life...
       

  • All I see is the short obituary on Tributes.com that anyone could have posted. No links to a news story or anything.

  • So he died from what? Traffic accident?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Considering the fact that he has been apparently working with radioactive materials for at least a decade (arrested in 2007 for trying to steal smoke detectors for their Americium) without a single thought to safety, and considering he has turned down medical treatment for radiation exposure numerous times I'd say he died of complications resulting from exposure (and lack of treatment) to radioactive materials. His mugshot from 2007 (which someone posted above) is dreadful and definitely indicates a lack of
      • Yeah, probably. He could have inhaled or ingested a bunch of alpha or beta emitters. Colon cancer, lung cancer, take your pick.

      • Considering the fact that he has been apparently working with radioactive materials for at least a decade (arrested in 2007 for trying to steal smoke detectors for their Americium) without a single thought to safety, and considering he has turned down medical treatment for radiation exposure numerous times I'd say he died of complications resulting from exposure (and lack of treatment) to radioactive materials.

        What you aren't considering is the very low actual risk numbers and a long history of medical evidence regarding exposure at even higher levels not resulting in significant statistical increases that a normal person would consider risk significant. If there was a 1 in 100,000 increase in the chance that this person would get cancer before he died, than in all likelihood your assumption is incorrect.

        • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

          Cancer is only one way to die from radiation exposure

          • If I get radiation exposure and develop a superpower of "3 penises", you can bet your sweet apple that I'm gonna die from simultaneous orgasms long before the cancer gets me.
          • Cancer is only one way to die from radiation exposure

            Yes, but please discuss those other ways in the context of this article and discussion. Cancer is by far the most likely health impact from most types of radioactive exposure that are not massively acute. Other risks are much lower, so my point stands.

        • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @09:43PM (#53278323)

          very low actual risk numbers and a long history of medical evidence regarding exposure at even higher levels not resulting in significant statistical increases

          All that stuff about 'no statistically significant increase in risk' goes way out the window if he was careless and wound up taking in a significant amount of radioactive material (Or other poison) directly into his body.

          The low risk occurs when the source of radiation is not directly inhaled or ingested.

      • That's my point. Since no cause of death is provided, why should we automatically assume he died from the effects of radiation exposure?
        • I think the correct phrase would be "death from long-term exposure to radioactive materials", which could be various poisonings, cancer, etc. He probably had more than one thing wrong and they all contributed to his early death.
    • One reason I posted this was to see if anyone had further information. He was taking drugs for a mental health condition and may have had a meth addiction at one time. Although I would immediately suspect radiation, any of those other things could have been the cause of his demise.
  • by fredrated ( 639554 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @09:43PM (#53278325) Journal

    "Don't try this at home".

  • Lesson learned...don't build a nuclear reactor in your backyard....do it in a friend's backyard.
  • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @10:18PM (#53278417)

    I don't think people fully appreciate radiation (cloud chamber with uranium): https://imgur.com/r/woahdude/g... [imgur.com]

    Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    So now imagine being exposed to that in larger doses for an extended period of time. I have no idea what killed this fellow, but certainly playing with something that's constantly generating tiny, invisible shrapnel might have had something to do with it.

  • this may also have been the cheapest superfund site taxpayers had to clean up, as it required removal and burial of the shed at just $60,000.

  • Rest in Peace (Score:4, Interesting)

    by quax ( 19371 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @10:38PM (#53278463)

    If if misguided I couldn't help but affectionally admire him.

    • Re:Rest in Peace (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @11:08PM (#53278541) Homepage

      He could have handled it so much better. Particularly as an adult. He kept on carrying on in the same manner he did as a child. Nuclear physics isn't about just randomly jamming things together, you do calculations and simulations to see how your idea will work. You determine your radiation hazards, you look up your material handling guidelines, you permit (okay, I'd forgive him for skipping that one, he'd never get approval), then you build.

      As an adult he apparently wanted to invent an always-on nuclear lightbulb. Of course, we already have those with tritium-lit exit signs, but he had some design of his own in mind, something bright (and almost certainly obscenely dangerous)

      • This goes for anything you do, but particularly anything dangerous. Turns out humans have done a lot of research on shit, and we know the right answer for a lot of things already. So rather than just flailing about trying to figure out what is going on, do some research. It may turn out that the problem you are trying to solve has already been solved, or that people have figured out a good reason it can't. You can save yourself a lot of time and headache, and in the case of something like nuclear materials

    • by barakn ( 641218 )

      So you're not sure if you are misguided or not?

  • I met him (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 13, 2016 @11:13PM (#53278559)

    He was on my ship. I was a nuke. He was not, and he was not nearly smart enough to be one. Nor did he have the dedication or discipline to succeed at it. He was obnoxious and racist. And I don't mean pretend racist that everyone like to toss around. He was openly racist and got his ass kicked more than once because of how openly bigoted and belligerent about it he was. There was nothing impressive about him, except for his disregard for common sense.

    • Re:I met him (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @11:45PM (#53278661) Homepage Journal

      He was on my ship. I was a nuke. He was not, and he was not nearly smart enough to be one.

      The Harper's story reminds me of something Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

      The story paints a picture of a kid who appears to have little common sense or self-preservation instinct, and yet he improvised a procedure to reduce extract the thorium dioxide from lantern mantles and reduce it with lithium (from lithium batteries) to metallic thorium! And then... then he tries to reduce the radiation escaping into the neighborhood by using cobalt steel drill bits as "control rods" in his makeshift reactor... WTF?

      I think his story may suggest that we underestimate how smart even not-particularly-smart people can be if they're sufficiently motivated. Maybe Or for a more extreme boost, obsessed.

    • I wondered what happened to this guy since the 2007 arrest (for smoke alarms)...
      He never struck me as especially talented; he seemed to disregard a lot of safety matters with what he was doing, which is not the mark of an intellectual.
      The facial sores looked like narcotics use or possibly still more radiation exposure, neither of which would have been good news (for him).

      He was on my ship. I was a nuke. He was not, and he was not nearly smart enough to be one. Nor did he have the dedication or discipline

  • by Cito ( 1725214 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @11:19PM (#53278575)
    What if?

    He tried to make SuperMeth using childhood inspiration and Walter White mixed to create a new powerful " Radium infused crystal Methamphetamine ".

    But idiot tried his own batch?
    http://www.nndb.com/people/821... [nndb.com]

    lol
  • Short film (Score:5, Informative)

    by braindrainbahrain ( 874202 ) on Sunday November 13, 2016 @11:48PM (#53278673)
    A short documentary about David Hahn and his reactor was made some time ago. It has since found its way to youtube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @12:36AM (#53278821)
    He was obviously smarter than most of us, and more driven. Too bad his energies couldn't be harnessed to positive ends.
    • He was obviously smarter than most of us

      How so? Because he attempted something out of a chemistry book but skipped all the bits about it being deadly as hell and it looks like it ultimately ended his life very early?

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @12:50AM (#53278871) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, initially this seems like a cautionary tale on curiosity.

    But if you look at this poor guy's later life, you'll see it for what it really is. Mental illness.

    He simply couldn't let his fixation go. He's been busted for trying to accumulate radioactive materials via theft as an adult too.

    Never mind the damage he's done. To others as well as himself... Never mind the other negative consequences he suffered.

    Basically there should have been psychiatric intervention years ago.

  • Of course we don't for sure, but if he was taking apart that stuff with his bare hands he was probably accidentally ingesting small amounts of contaminated material from whatever got onto his hands and dust getting onto food, the air he was breathing, etc. Remember, he was taking apart hundreds to possibly thousands of devices.

    Ingestion is what killed the ladies painting aircraft instrument dials with radium-laced paint (the radium to make the dials glow in the dark). In that case it was more direct, the

  • *Tadum* *Crash* *Thud*

    Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week.

  • Hahn died on September 27, 2016. Almost 2 months ago...

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