When it comes to science experiments, there are certain things you shouldn’t try without the supervision of professionals. No matter how experienced you might think you are, combining dangerous chemicals can result in horrific outcomes.
Case in point: An overly curious boy scout from Michigan who was obsessed with radioactivity. He started his own makeshift lab in a shed behind his mother’s house and soon the residents of his entire town were in jeopardy…
Michigan’s David Hahn might have seemed like an average kid, but in fact, his mind was unlike most of his peers’. He was obsessed with scientific experimentation and it would eventually lead to some very dangerous situations.
David’s passion came about when he was 10 years old and his grandfather gifted him a chemistry book. David was enthralled by its contents and he began dabbling with experimentation himself.
David wanted his experiments to be the real thing, not the kind of simple stuff he did during his grade school science classes. So, he bought beakers, bunsen burners, test tubes, and a plethora of other professional lab equipment. He was determined to teach himself the ins and outs of chemical reactions regardless of the potential hazards.
David was also heavily involved with the Boy Scouts, and he would frequently share his dangerous experiments with his fellow troopers. He actually blew a hole in his tent while camping one night using a personal stockpile of magnesium. David’s experiments were getting dangerous, but nothing prepared his family and his town for what would eventually occur…
You’d think most parents by this time would have taken away their child’s lab equipment after learning they were mishandling hazardous chemicals, but not David’s parents. To them, the small explosions and chemical spills were simply the results of a curious mind. However, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
David’s parents did force him to move his lab setup to their basement. They thought the move would hinder David’s enthusiasm, it did just the opposite; now their son had more room and privacy to conduct his dangerous experiments.
It didn’t take long before David caused an explosion using red phosphorous in the basement. David’s parents must have put a firm stop to his activities at this point, right? Nope. David simply moved his lab into a shed behind his house. Now he had the space to cause some serious problems…
David was fascinated by radioactivity, and now that he had an entire shed to himself, he planned to build something that would eventually send his entire town into a panic…
He wanted to build his own nuclear reactor! Now, this might sound completely insane (and it was) but to David, it was completely doable. All he needed was a way to obtain the radioactive materials to start his new project.
In 1994, when David was only 17, he posed as an adult scientist and began writing letters and making phone calls to places like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the American Nuclear Society inquiring about the materials he would need for his reactor. Unbelievably, no one ever asked about his credentials and David was able to learn exactly how to obtain and isolate radioactive isotopes. With that information, he could begin building his reactor.
David dismantled smoke detectors to obtain the chemical americium; he also obtained radium through antique luminous clocks and thorium from gas lanterns. He even spent $1,000 on lithium batteries to obtain that particular chemical, as well. He was quickly gathering everything he needed for his reactor. But, would it actually end up working?
Using all of the chemicals he obtained from basic household items, he was able to build a makeshift reactor core. Unbeknownst to everyone in his neighborhood, including his parents, there was a highly dangerous nuclear reactor sitting in his backyard shed. However, it wouldn’t be too long until the entire community knew about it…
Because David had zero experience working with nuclear energy, the level of radiation emitted by his reactor rose to dangerous levels. Using a Geiger counter, David was soon able to detect high levels of radiation five houses away from his shed. Luckily, he recognized his experiment was completely out of control and decided to shut the whole thing down. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be that easy.
David dismantled his reactor late one night and began loading it into the trunk of his car. He was trying to be as discreet as possible, but he was spotted by neighbors who called the cops, thinking he was stealing tires. When the police arrived, however, it wasn’t tires they found, but something much more terrifying.
The police initially thought David had an atomic bomb in his trunk! The bomb squad was called in, and to everyone’s relief, they were wrong. However, the team measured 1,000 times the amount of radiation that was considered safe! This triggered the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan. Then… all hell broke loose!
Because the shed wasn’t a federally recognized nuclear site, it took the Environmental Protection Agency nearly two months to begin their investigation. Eventually, when workers did examine its contents, they were stunned at what they found…
According to a memo written by the EPA, the chemicals in David’s lab presented an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health, welfare, and environment. There was also dangerous exposure to the nearby human population, animals, and the food chain. Needless to say, the people who lived in David’s community were not only outraged, they were now worried about their own health.
According to the EPA’s official assessment, David’s experiment with the nuclear reactor exposed 40,000 people to dangerous cancer-causing levels of radiation and cost $60,000 to clean up! This chaotic ordeal was how David earned the nickname “Radioactive Boy Scout.”
In 1995, one year after David’s nuclear reactor debacle sent shock waves through his town, the EPA offered to give David a full examination to see how much radiation he was exposed to, but David refused, fearful of what he might learn. David struggled in life as time went on. He joined the army where he served for several years but battled drug and alcohol addiction.
David’s obsession with chemistry certainly caused an uproar in his community. Even after the nuclear reactor incident, his passion for science didn’t diminish. In fact, he dreamed of building a light bulb that could glow for 100 years. Some people never learn!
Tragically, David died before he even reached the age of 40, but it wasn’t radiation that killed him, it was alcohol poisoning. What a life story!
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