The Radioactive Boyscout Strikes Again!

November 21st, 2007
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David Hahn became well known for his attempt to build a nuclear reactor in 1994 at the age of 17, after receiving his a merit badge for nuclear energy in the boy scouts. What he ended up building wasn’t really a “reactor” but more of a combination of an beryllium isotopic neutron source and a “breeder blanket” of material which it irradiated. It never achieved a chain reaction, but it did cause a lot of concern and force officials to step in and clean up his backyard shed. He created this from a combination of the tiny americium-241 sources in smoke detectors, radium paint from old clocks, thorium from lantern mantles and just about anything else he could get his hands on.

Hahn slipped into obscurity after the radioactive material was confiscated and he went off to join the US Navy. He was assigned to a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, but just as an ordinary seaman, not in any way involving the reactor. Eventually he left the service, and that was basically that for Hahn…

Well, until recently. Hahn was arrested back in August when a maintenance person saw him stealing a smoke detector from his apartment complex. Police charged him with larceny after they found an additional sixteen smoke detectors in his apartment. He was held on $5000 bail and plead guilty, which got him a sentence of 90 days in prison.

It sure seems like he was back to his old tricks, but one would think by now he’d have realized you can’t build a reactor out of smoke detectors. Or at least, you can’t out of sixteen. Although Am-241 is fissile, and could be a component of the reactor fuel, the amount in a smoke detector is so small that you would need millions or possibly billions to get enough material for a reactor. What Hahn built his first time was a rather nasty hodgepodge of materials. Although the neutron flux was small, radium paint is very toxic to begin with and the neutron bombardment of material that is already radioactive certainly did not help.

It begs the question of what the hell he though he was doing. One would think that from his early experience he would have learned that there’s no use in trying to build a reactor out of smoke detector sources and that one can get into a rather large amount of trouble trying to do so. At least based on reports, what he had was far from what you would need to even start a reactor, and in and of itself not especially dangerous.

Hahn’s mug shot shows his face to be very obviously covered with sores. News reports have said that officials suspected this was from radiation exposure, but Hahn refused to be examined by doctors for possible radiation poisoning. I’m VERY skeptical of this. It seems more likely to me this was just some off-hand speculation, either by the media or police.

Radiation poisoning does not usually cause such sores. It can cause skin problems, in high localized doses, but more common symptoms are hair loss, nausea, fatigue, infections, anemia and some other issues. But in any case, those would not be caused by smoke detector sources. Unless Hahn had acquired much larger and more powerful radioisotopes, he would not show acute signs of radiation exposure. None of the reports mention anything beyond the smoke detectors. The only way such sores might come from radioactive sources would be if a high energy particle emitter was held against the skin for long periods of time, thus resulting in small burns.

More likely: To me, this looks a lot more like a methamphetamine problem. Some of the news reports eluded to Hahn having had drug problems and the stealing of smoke detectors does not sound like the actions of a healthy mind. Meth users commonly have skin sores and their restlessness and feelings of “Meth Bugs” – the illusion of bugs or something else crawling under the skin – can lead to picking at one’s face or body. This is speculation, of course, but I highly suspect this may be the cause and it seems much more likely than radiation.

Here are some examples:

One thing I can say is that it’s too bad to see Mr. Hahn’s life go this way. The guy was is obviously pretty smart or at least was at one point. Hahn’s enthusiasm for nuclear energy is great, but entirely misplaced. He should consider advocating for an actual, sealed, tested, working reactor to be built, rather than take it into his own hands to do so out of smoke detectors.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 21st, 2007 at 5:56 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Nuclear. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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28 Responses to “The Radioactive Boyscout Strikes Again!”

  1. 1
    Teek Says:

    Crikey, yes, that looks like classic meth addiction. If you look at victims of radiation poisoning, they don’t look like that (well, I’m thinking of Alexander Litvinenko specifically). Do you think it was just media speculation? Surely if you had radiation poisoning that bad you wouldn’t be walking around.


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  2. 2
    drbuzz0 Says:

    They said that the police “speculated” that it could have been caused by radiation poisoning, but I think it might have just been that: speculation. He refused to be looked at by a doctor, possibly because he was paranoid of them finding out more or whatever. Seems like it’s the sort of thing that would get blown out of proportion because it’s so visually striking. It’s also something of the obvious answer to the obvious question: “What the hell happened to his face.” “Oh… we don’t really know but it could have been the radiation.”

    But you’re right. If you had radiation exposure sufficient to cause skin problems you would be very very ill. Not pretty at all.


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  3. 3
    Doofrat Says:

    Read:
    http://www.dangerouslaboratories.org/radscout.html

    It wasn’t just Smoke Detectors, he got a hold of Pitchblende and refined it into Uranium. He also found a large cache of Radium, and three other radioactive substances. The radioactivity was able to be picked up five doors down. Although his sores look like meth, they are most likely from the radiation. They could be the same type of sores, just a different cause.


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  4. 4
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Doofrat said:

    Read:
    http://www.dangerouslaboratories.org/radscout.html

    It wasn’t just Smoke Detectors, he got a hold of Pitchblende and refined it into Uranium. He also found a large cache of Radium, and three other radioactive substances. The radioactivity was able to be picked up five doors down. Although his sores look like meth, they are most likely from the radiation. They could be the same type of sores, just a different cause.

    That was the first time around. The events you’re talking about are several years in the past. Notice it says “Strikes again” The same dude who is known because of that incident has again shown up in the news.

            Doofrat said:

    Although his sores look like meth, they are most likely from the radiation. They could be the same type of sores, just a different cause.

    And you base this on what?


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  5. 5
    David S Says:

    I thought you’d like to know … from my research, it appears you were right. David Hahn has been arrested numerous times and charged with drug possession, carrying a concealed weapon, maintaining a drug house, failing drug tests while on probation, etc.


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  6. 6
    David S Says:

    … I mean, since his initial arrest for stealing the smoke detectors back in mid-2007, that is.


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  7. 7
    Ksimple Says:

            David S said:

    I thought you’d like to know … from my research, it appears you were right. David Hahn has been arrested numerous times and charged with drug possession, carrying a concealed weapon, maintaining a drug house, failing drug tests while on probation, etc.

    Met the man…he’s very far out there and in my opinion…definitely on drugs


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  8. 8
    David S Says:

    He has been posting at various places calling himself a “weak brain human” (look up that user on MySpace) and is “looking for another of his kind.” I suspect he has a serious mental illness. Very sad.


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  9. 9
    Daisy Says:

            David S said:

    He has been posting at various places calling himself a “weak brain human” (look up that user on MySpace) and is “looking for another of his kind.” I suspect he has a serious mental illness. Very sad.

    yeah he is messed up.. if u look him up on the Michigan offender page, it shows he currently has 2 charges of cocaine posession on his record and he’s on probation till 2013. even by looking at this mug shot u can tell he is an addict just by the face, the eyes, all of it shows its drug use. i am a recovered addict. and i guess its true that once youve been one, you can tell when someone else is. im glad im clean and healthy now. i’m very blessed i never ended up looking this bad and my problem was much shorter lived than most addicts.


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  10. 10
    Martin Smith Says:

    Might I make a suggestion that may not have been thought of?

    I actually had the odd pleasure of knowing Hahn, were were stationed together in the same unit in the Marine Corps in Japan. I thought he was interesting and odd, and obviously very smart, but our paths only crossed on occasion. I didn’t think this at the time, but know that I am studying to be a psychologist I know a little more, and Hahn defiantly had, or has, schizophrenia. I remember him talking about guards on the base mentally raping him, and him building tin foil into his hat to protect himself. He also talked to a friend of my about trying to change his brain waves so the government couldn’t track him.

    If you want a second thought on the sores (which I’m sure you do) schizophrenia can result in a hallucination of bugs under the skin, similar to meth, and his picking at his face could have come from that. He could also be using drugs to escape some of the horror of the disease, although most schizophrenics who do turn to marijuana. The guy was crazy and was in some serious need of professional help.


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  11. 11
    a Says:

    http://www.damninteresting.com/smoke-detectors-and-a-radioactive-boyscout/

    Hahn (or someone claiming to be him) comments extensively on the link above…says that his current research is focused on time travel. He’s clearly mentally ill. Sad story.


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  12. 12
    Greg Rowland Says:

    Let’s not overlook what this 16 year old high-school kid achieved. He had extraordinary focus, skill and brilliance of mind to create what he did – believing that the world’s energy problems could be resolved with atomic power! Marie Curie and the Manhatten Project personnel were all highly trained professionals. This kid foraged on, completely on his own interest and intellect. The unfortunate and very sad aspect of his formative years was the absence of mentorship. He was only seen as being quirky and reserved, secretive… Given the proper guidance, he certainly had the potential to become a significant scientist/researcher with the brilliant mind to make a significant contribution to humanity…


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  13. 13
    Anon Says:

            Greg Rowland said:

    Let’s not overlook what this 16 year old high-school kid achieved. He had extraordinary focus, skill and brilliance of mind to create what he did – believing that the world’s energy problems could be resolved with atomic power! Marie Curie and the Manhatten Project personnel were all highly trained professionals. This kid foraged on, completely on his own interest and intellect. The unfortunate and very sad aspect of his formative years was the absence of mentorship. He was only seen as being quirky and reserved, secretive… Given the proper guidance, he certainly had the potential to become a significant scientist/researcher with the brilliant mind to make a significant contribution to humanity…

    Had he been given such guidance I think it’s likely he would have been able to become something more than he is now, maybe he could have gotten into the US Navies nuclear programme or got a nuclear engineering degree (then again, he might have wasted his life on drugs even had the events which made him famous never happened).

    Though I’d have to say he isn’t the only person who suffered from lack of intellect appropriate mentorship earlier in life (just a very visible case).


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  14. 14
    Barb Says:

    WHY DON’T YOU CREEPS FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO BESIDES SLANDER THIS YOUNG MAN? DAVID HAHN IS TROUBLED AND BRILLIANT. I KNOW HIM PERSONALLY. THESE ARE NOT FROM METH – THESE ARE FROM A SKIN VIRUS. I SHOULD KNOW – I TOOK HIM TO THE DOCTOR!

    LEAVE HIM ALONE.

    FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO WITH YOUR MISERABLE LITTLE BORING LIVES THAN TO SLANDER MY FRIEND DAVID.


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  15. 15
    Barb Says:

    PS: DAVID’S MOTHER, (WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE), HAD SCHIZOPHRENIA AND WAS AN ALCOHOLIC. SHE SHOT HERSELF. SHE WAS IMMENSELY TALENTED IN THE ARTS AND COULD DRAW BEAUTIFULLY.

    PLEASE LEAVE MY NEPHEW ALONE WITH YOUR NASTY, VILE COMMENTS. FIND ANOTHER ACTIVITY IF YOU’RE BORED WITH YOUR OWN LITTLE BORING LIVES.


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  16. 16
    MaryEllen Says:

    “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:12).”


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  17. 17
    Dan Says:

    Wow, all the “expert” commentators on this blog….. sounds like everyone who doesn’t even know this young man is an EXPERT on what he “should have done,” what others in his life “should have done,” blah blah blah…… Monday Morning Quarterbacks is what we call them.

    The posters are only showing their ignorance by their comments.

    They obviously know NOTHING about schizophrenia…. try watching the movie A BEAUTIFUL MIND…. try doing some research on schizophrenia…. stop judging others.


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  18. 18
    Barb Says:

    http://openjurist.org/law/defamation-libel-and-slander-law/michigan/commerce-township

    Learn the definition of libel and slander before you get sued.


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  19. 19
    Anon Says:

            Barb said:

    Learn the definition of libel and slander before you get sued.

    Which is pretty much saying you won’t be suing anyone around here.

    But anyway, way to go bringing attention to this thread.


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  20. 20
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Barb said:

    WHY DON’T YOU CREEPS FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO BESIDES SLANDER THIS YOUNG MAN? DAVID HAHN IS TROUBLED AND BRILLIANT. I KNOW HIM PERSONALLY. THESE ARE NOT FROM METH – THESE ARE FROM A SKIN VIRUS. I SHOULD KNOW – I TOOK HIM TO THE DOCTOR!

    Fair enough. It could be from a skin virus. I was making the point that it was not typical of radiation exposure (as the police, not I, had speculated). The media reports all cited his appearance as being related to radiation. I am refuting that.

    As far as the actual cause, I think I made it clear that I don’t know, but since the natural question is “If not radiation then what?” I’m just about obligated to provide an alternate possibility. His drug problems provide another possible, and more likely, explanation. I’m not the one saying he has drug problems. That’s what has been reported. That’s what the court said. It’s a matter of public record.

    He had a substance problem. The judicial system imposed treatment on him. It was reported in the public media. Deal with it.

            Barb said:

    LEAVE HIM ALONE.

    It’s not like I just decided to pick on him. This was a story widely reported in the general news media. There’s a simple reason why it was. David Hamm, for better or worse, achieved a slight amount of fame. There was a book written about him etc.

    This was reported because he’s an adult and committed a crime. He was caught committing petty theft and had drug charges as well. It’s fair game to report this. When someone commits a crime, it’s often reported in the media.

    Had he been anyone else. it would have been reported in the local police log, but because he’s well known and because of the nature of the crime, it got the attention of the national press. He’s not the first one to have this happen. If you’re at all well known and drive drunk or something, expect it to be in the paper.

            Barb said:

    FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO WITH YOUR MISERABLE LITTLE BORING LIVES THAN TO SLANDER MY FRIEND DAVID.

    I do plenty else with my life and I’m not slandering him.

    If he does not like this kind of attention and does not want to see his face in the newspaper or on tv being reported about in a negative manner, he should refrain from stealing things.


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  21. 21
    Angry Guy Says:

    yOU IS ALL GONNA GO TO HADES FOR YER MEAN COMMENTS! gOD HATES SLANDERERS!!


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  22. 22
    Anon Says:

    Let me guess, Angry Guy is also Barb who is also Dan and may also be MaryEllen.


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  23. 23
    Barb Says:

    TYPING IN CAPS MAKES ME FEEL SPECIAL. I AM TYPING IN CAPS AND CALLING NAMES TO MAKE MYSELF FEEL BETTER.


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  24. 24
    Bianca Says:

            Barb said:

    http://openjurist.org/law/defamation-libel-and-slander-law/michigan/commerce-township

    Learn the definition of libel and slander before you get sued.

    This doesn’t fall under the definition of libel or slander.

    If you are truly worried about him, I suggest having him tested for mental illness and get him the help he needs.

    No one has really said anything against him, other then shaking their head sadly at what has transpired.


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  25. 25
    The Nuke Duke Says:

    Hitler would have said….


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  26. 26
    krovas Says:

    There’s a very blurry line between genius and madness.


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  27. 27
    baba Says:

    Did he get better? I hope he gets better & gets a good job


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  28. 28
    DV82XL Says:

    According to an article in the Mail Online he is not, worryingly for some, retired but now wants to invent a 100-year light bulb… out of ‘safe’ irradiated paint.


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