The sad story of David Hahn, the Boy Scout who built a nuclear reactor.

The sad story of David Hahn, the Boy Scout who built a nuclear reactor.

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  1. Just in case any one is interested David’s girlfriend broke-up with him after the experiment and his mother committed suicide in 1996. He ended up enlisting as a ~~nuclear technician~~ seaman in the Navy and then went onto become a Marine where he was discharged for health related issues.

    He would be arrested in again for stealing the smoke detectors in his apartment building and ended up dying at age 39; allegedly of alcohol poisoning.

    Seems like this kid was never able to catch a break.

    EDIT: So I basically just took this off the wiki so I have no idea regarding veracity of the claim that he was a nuclear tech. I did find a [PBS interview](https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/building-a-better-breeder-reactor-1) that stated:

    > “he became the helmsman of the USS Enterprise — a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier — which he says is a bear to parallel park.”

    The original 1998 [Harpers article](https://harpers.org/archive/1998/11/the-radioactive-boy-scout/?single=1) also alludes that he was an undesignated seaman:

    > “Alas, David’s duties, as a lowly seaman, are of the deck-swabbing and potato-peeling variety. But long after his shipmates have gone to sleep, David stays up studying topics that interest him—currently steroids, melanin, genetic codes, antioxidants, prototype reactors, amino acids, and criminal law. And it is perhaps best that he does not work on the ship’s eight reactors, for EPA scientists worry that his previous exposure to radioactivity may have greatly cut short his life.”

    An [arstechnica](https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/this-fall-the-radioactive-boy-scout-died-at-age-39/) article also stated that he served on the USS Enterprise:

    > “Hahn later served four years in the United States Navy, including service aboard the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. He also briefly served in the United States Marine Corps and then returned back to his home state.”

    In another [arstechnica](https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/03/radioactive-boy-scout-died-of-alcohol-poisoning-not-radiation-father-says/) article David’s father quoted David as saying:

    > “Kenneth Hahn said previously that his son had served as a sniper and master helmsman aboard the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

    On this really creepy website/database(?) [NNDB](http://www.nndb.com/people/821/000160341/) they state:

    > “Hahn served as a US Navy seaman on the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, where his duties did not involve contact with the ship’s reactors”

    TLDR: It seems like the wiki has failed and though he was stationed on a nuclear aircraft carrier, his job was not related to the ships reactors.

  2. “Hahn died on Tuesday, September 27, 2016, at the age of 39. At the time, he was a resident of Shelby Charter Township, Michigan.[1][11] Hahn’s father has since confirmed that the cause of death was alcohol poisoning.[12]”

    🙁

  3. All you’ve heard is from Ken Silverstein’s 2004 book, *The Radioactive Boy Scout*, mainly used Hahn himself as the source. It is pretty factully exaggerated for narrative value.

    This story is pretty distorted. He didn’t really have a technical understanding here. He just had mental problems and was obsessed with radioactive materials. It wasn’t that “idiot savant with so much potential who just couldn’t get a break”, he really was a low-functioning mental case and didn’t have actual skills.

    He really didn’t “build” a reactor, just stuck them together, but more for the concept, the idea, than actual effect. It wasn’t really purposed and any substantial function is unlikely. His claims of measurable radiation from new synthesized isotopes seems highly dubious.

    In the end he’d just collected an impressive amount of radium paint, thorium lantern mantles, and americium smoke detectors, tore it all open and wrapped contents in tinfoil.

    The EPA cleanup is also overdramatized. It’s unlikely “radiation could be measured from the street” is factual unless he tracked some material out there. He did spread low-level material around a shed that was just a dilapidated shed so they just called it all contaminated, hired a licensed contractor to put on hazmat suits, tear it down and hauled it away as low-level waste, like the tyvek hazmat suits themselves.

    His mental problems grew later. Well he graduated from troubled kid with mental problems to dysfunctional adult with mental problems.

    He was not kept away from the nuclear reactors in the Navy (not a specialist) because he’d “already exceeded the lifetime exposure limit for thorium”. He had no academic or de facto competency in the field and was just a dysfunctional mental case. My read of the situation is he was “that guy” in the group you really don’t want to engage with as he is not useful for tasks of any sort, just rants. He was Honorably discharged on medical grounds (mental health issue can be assumed).

    I followed Hahn’s story for a bit but never met him. He posted online as **Thumper235** and [you can read his rants here](https://www.damninteresting.com/smoke-detectors-and-a-radioactive-boyscout/). Yes that’s DamnInteresting’s actual article on him, he took over the Comments section *on his own article about him* and made it into his personal blog and it’s insane AF:

    >The Radioactive Boyscout here. I am currently working on several plans to help with vehicle sales and production with the “BIG 3”. I am currently working on a system for pairing up, scaler (scalar) waves and gamma rays. Once I have accomplished this, I may be able to send a signal into the past. Unfortunatly, NASA has turned down all of my proposals (including a 37.00 dollar test proposal). Some of my (bear future) experiments require alot of distance and special (synergistic- like) mechanisms of action) to accomplish this. I would appreciate any funding that you may be able to provide. Please mail any donations to David Charles Hahn **(address removed)**, Clinton Township, Michigan 48038. My experiments are designed to empower our beloved country. Please have faith in Miracles and Magic. With a donation of 19.95 or more, I will mail you a copy of my “INFINISHED” book, titled “EVEN BETTER”. 100 girls were lined up. 1 female read my book. Once another man read my book, he decided to correspond with that female. This is going to be a very powerful book, designed to “GREATLY” EMPOWER, the reader.

    Holy shit… I just reread this. Break that into 140 char pieces, add a few exclamation points, some repetition, and more ALL CAPS, change “I” to “we” in a few places, and it’s a Trump tweetstorm

    In later years, [this video](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySouQ1ykBMo) shows he’s cleaned up quite a bit, but still quite troubled.

  4. This happened in my hometown. The EPA was brought in to clean up the property as a Superfund site as radiation levels were over 1000 times the normal background radiation. Probably the most exciting thing to ever happen in our small town.

  5. For anyone wondering about the Saint Louis nuclear fill, I live right by it and have seen how it’s made. Nothing is leaking out of it, I promise. It’s completely safe, and people are allowed to climb on the mound. It’s a true feat of human engineering. It’s in Saint Charles specifically if anyone is curious. Right by Busch Wildlife.

  6. There was a kid in my school who was almost exactly like this kid. In fact I think he was also working on making a “nuclear reactor” out of glow in the dark paint and smoke detectors too. This was like 20 years, no clue what that kid is up to now. His name was Graham.

  7. I like how the video makes getting the Atomic Energy merit badge out to be something sinister. I earned that badge, as have thousands of other Scouts. It teaches the basics of radioactivity and how it’s used. There’s nothing sinister about it.

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