In 1994, David Hahn, a 17-year-old American scout, came up with a novel way to earn a merit badge in Atomic Energy. He tried to build a miniature nuclear reactor in his mother’s garden shed in a Detroit suburb. Hahn extracted radioactive material from lamp mantles and soldered together the americium from 100 discarded smoke detectors. Although his “reactor” never stood a chance of working, Hahn did manage to create toxic levels of radioactivity – about 1,000 times the normal level, detectable over 100 meters away.

After an accidental discovery by local police, the US Government commandeered Hahn’s mother’s house, eventually decontaminating it and burying the shed as radioactive waste in Utah. Hahn joined the Marines, but was arrested in 2007 for stealing smoke detectors. His mugshot shows his face covered with sores, which police believe are caused by prolonged exposure to radioactive materials. A film of his story, The Radioactive Boy Scout, is due out.

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