The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein
The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor

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Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science, and his basement experiments—building homemade fireworks, brewing moonshine, and concocting his own self-tanning lotion—were more ambitious than those of other boys. While working on his Atomic Energy badge for the Boy Scouts, David’s obsessive attention turned to nuclear energy. Throwing caution to the wind, he plunged into a new project: building a nuclear breeder reactor in his backyard garden shed.

In The Radioactive Boy Scout, veteran journalist Ken Silverstein recreates in brilliant detail the months of David’s improbable nuclear quest. Posing as a physics professor, David solicited information on reactor design from the U.S. government and from industry experts. (Ironically, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was his number one source of information.) Scavenging antiques stores and junkyards for old-fashioned smoke detectors and gas lanterns—both of which contain small amounts of radioactive material—and following blueprints he found in an outdated physics textbook, David cobbled together a crude device that threw off toxic levels of radiation. His unsanctioned and wholly unsupervised project finally sparked an environmental catastrophe that put his town’s forty thousand residents at risk and caused the EPA to shut down his lab and bury it at a radioactive dumpsite in Utah.

An outrageous account of ambition and, ultimately, hubris that sits comfortably on the shelf next to such offbeat science books as Driving Mr. Albert and stories of grand capers like Catch Me If You Can, The Radioactive Boy Scout is a real-life adventure with the narrative energy of a first-rate thriller.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Ken Silverstein

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KEN SILVERSTEIN is an investigative reporter for the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Los Angeles Times. A former contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine, in which a portion of this story first appeared, he has written for Mother Jones, The Nation, and The American Prospect, among others. He lives in Washington, D.C.From the Hardcover edition.
Published March 2, 2004 by Random House. 240 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Crime, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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As the story creeps along, inevitably toward the reactor craziness, Silverstein fills in background information from a helpful introduction to the necessary chemistry and nuclear physics to an unclouded look at the history of the atomic energy military/industrial complex in the US.

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Star Tribune

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Silverstein's book, spawned from an earlier magazine article, is the first in-depth glimpse at the details, and it reveals that David Hahn (and many others) are still seduced by the dream of a more nuclear-powered future.

Mar 06 2004 | Read Full Review of The Radioactive Boy Scout: Th...

Entertainment Weekly

(Blame the rosy pamphlets he read to earn his Atomic Energy badge, blame his absent, divorced parents, blame the fact that it's apparently easy to get uranium.) Silverstein tells how this lonely high schooler landed americium (he bought 100 smoke detectors wholesale), radium (antique glow-in-...

Mar 05 2004 | Read Full Review of The Radioactive Boy Scout: Th...

Bookmarks Magazine

While I found myself skipping some of the more technical explanations, The Radioactive Boy Scout is an interesting retelling of David’s experiments, and an astonishing look at how a teenager built a nuclear reactor in his back yard."

Oct 25 2009 | Read Full Review of The Radioactive Boy Scout: Th...

Scientific American

(According to Silverstein, the official EPA clean-up missed materials that his father and step-mother found hidden in their house and discarded in their household trash — which means that both the EPA and those close enough to the local landfill where the radioactive materials ended up had signif...

Jul 31 2012 | Read Full Review of The Radioactive Boy Scout: Th...

In The Radioactive Boy Scout, journalist Ken Silverstein recounts how a disaffected suburban Detroit teenager built a nuclear reactor in a backyard shed.

May 12 2004 | Read Full Review of The Radioactive Boy Scout: Th...

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