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February 22, 2024 40 mins

David Hahn was a kid who was really into science. So much that he built a nuclear reactor in his mother's potting shed. And it worked. 

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff you Should Know, a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:11):
Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh, and there's
Chuck and Jerry's here too. And this is a gold
fashioned barn burner of a stuff you Should Know type topic.

Speaker 1 (00:19):
Woo whizbang Chuck.

Speaker 2 (00:21):
This was somebody sent this in as a suggestion recently.

Speaker 1 (00:25):
I think, right, yeah, you know, I think you and
I had both been aware of this story. But we
did get a recent suggestion from David Departcher.

Speaker 2 (00:33):
Yeah, David Parcher, I think just a couple of weeks
ago sent in the suggestion and look at the timing.

Speaker 1 (00:40):
Yeah, well, thank you, David. And we're going to talk
about another David, that is David Hahn, the Nuclear Boy Scout.

Speaker 2 (00:46):
Yep.

Speaker 1 (00:47):
And this is one of those where we owe a
huge debt to a single human because this story was
may have just gone fairly unnoticed as a pretty localized
local news paper item if it hadn't have been found
by a gentleman named Ken Silverstein, who ended up writing
a very large piece in Harper's Magazine and then a

(01:10):
book called The Radioactive Boy Scout colon the True story
of a boy in his backyard nuclear reactor, so big,
thanks to Ken. A lot of this came from your work.

Speaker 2 (01:20):
Yeah, and shout out also to the journalists from the
Natural Resources News Service, which is this investigative journalist group
that just as a public good like investigate stories and
then turn around and give them to news outlets. And
apparently that's how Ken came across the story and began

(01:40):
researching it. So there's two people that were responsible for
it at least.

Speaker 1 (01:45):
Yeah, and three because we have to count David Hahn,
the Michigan teenager who in the nineties managed to create
a nuclear reaction in the potting shed of his mom's house.
It is a story that is interesting and amazing but
also very sad in its ending.

Speaker 2 (02:04):
Yeah, and technically we should thank five people because it
took Patty and Ken Han to reproduce and create David Hahn.
So we're at five people now that we need to thank.

Speaker 1 (02:16):
All right, So David was born October nineteen seventy six.
That's a year you were born.

Speaker 2 (02:22):
Right, Yeah. I was just a couple months older than him.

Speaker 1 (02:25):
Yeah, and look what this guy did. Yeah, what have
you ever done?

Speaker 2 (02:29):
Thanks for that?

Speaker 1 (02:32):
You gotta hit podcasts. You're not sweating it.

Speaker 2 (02:34):
Oh, I'm sweating.

Speaker 1 (02:37):
When he was a little And we say this because
it very much figures into the end of David's story.
It's very sad. But his mother, Patty was diagnosed with
depression and paranoid schizophrenia, was hospitalized through his early childhood
off and on, and she would eventually take her own
life in nineteen ninety six.

Speaker 2 (02:55):
Yeah, and that we'll play into the story later on.
But Patty remains a character throughout most of it. So
too does David's father, Ken, who we mentioned. He's person five.
We need to thank Patty and Ken got divorced, I
think when David was really little, like maybe a toddler,
and Ken ended up marrying a coworker. Person number six

(03:15):
we need to thank Kathy missing. Ken and Kathy were
both engineers at General Motors. This whole thing took place
in the suburbs of Detroit, specifically Clinton Township, Michigan, specifically
later on, in a subdivision called Golf Manor as we'll see.
But so David lives with Ken and Cathy, and then

(03:37):
on weekends he goes and stays with his mom, Patty
and her boyfriend. Person number seven who we need to
thank Michael Polassic, and they're the ones I believe who
lived in golf Manor and under by all accounts, like
David lived a pretty normal childhood, just doing normal childhood things.
It wasn't until he was ten that his life found

(04:00):
its purpose, which is pretty early if you think about it,
for your life to find its purpose.

Speaker 1 (04:04):
Yeah, and by the way, if you live in golf Manor,
hold your emails, we know you're in Commerce Township.

Speaker 2 (04:09):
Yes, thank you for that. I think his dad lived
in Clinton Township.

Speaker 1 (04:15):
Yeah, it's probably like where I lived in New Jersey.
It's like all these old townships just run together.

Speaker 2 (04:19):
Yeah, that's what it looked like on the map.

Speaker 1 (04:21):
Yeah. So the person we really need to thank this
is number eight.

Speaker 2 (04:26):
Person eight.

Speaker 1 (04:28):
Is, like you mentioned, when David was ten years old,
his step mom's father, so I guess his step grandfather
if you count that as a thing. He was also
an engineer at GM. He gave a little David a
book called the Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, and little
David was fascinated with science and chemistry, but in particular

(04:49):
with the stories of Mary and Pierre Currie and their
radium discovery and the glow. I think the glow of
that whole thing really enthrall this young guy.

Speaker 2 (05:01):
Yeah, this book was heavily illustrated and like the instructions
kind of looked had the same look as like those
Ripley's Believe it or not. Yeah, comic strips almost totally
something that would appeal to a kid that age are
a little older. You can find it online in its
entirety as a PDF. And I looked at that illustration.
I don't really know what he saw, and it's actually

(05:23):
black and white that glows to some lines coming off
of a beaker or whatever.

Speaker 1 (05:27):
But imagination, my friend, for.

Speaker 2 (05:29):
Some reason, it enthralled him so much so that within
two years of receiving that book, he was devouring his
father's chemistry textbooks at age twelve.

Speaker 1 (05:40):
Yeah, so he was. I mean, these were books that
were more advanced than his age. Clearly a smart guy.
At the age of fourteen, he apparently made nitroglycerin by himself,
which evidently isn't the hardest thing to do, but is
very dangerous to do. There are other stories like he
brought wanted to make his own fireworks boy scout camp,

(06:00):
so we brought some powdered magnesium. It ended up catching
on fire and ruined a tent. So what else. He
tried to develop a self tanning method that didn't work out, right.

Speaker 2 (06:12):
Yeah, he overdosed on Kantha's anthen, which I can't remember
which one which episode that came up in, but it's
a pigment that turned your skin orange from the inside out.
And that's what he did. He was trying to come
up with a self tanning method that didn't use any
kind of UV radiation.

Speaker 1 (06:30):
Yeah, no comment, but he was that kind of dude.

Speaker 2 (06:33):
He would just turn up at like a Scout meeting
or something bright orange and be like, yeah, too much
Cantha's anthen.

Speaker 1 (06:39):
So yeah, he's exactly that kid. He's also the kind
of kid who essentially destroys his bedroom because he's doing science.
The walls were wrecked, the carpet was stayed, they had
to move the carpet out. Eventually, his dad was like, listen,
this is getting serious. You're destroying our home. You got

(07:02):
to move into the basement first of all, and when
we're not here, you can't be in here either. They
took away equipment, they took away some chemicals, and finally
they said, all right, this is out of hand. You
can't do this anymore. So they said, all right, I'll
do it, like every divorce kid says, I'll do it
at the other.

Speaker 2 (07:21):
Parents house, that's right, And so he did. He ended
up setting up a lab in his mom's potting shit
and golf manor in commerce township. And this is where
the story really starts to kind of take off, because
his dad was getting really worried that his son was

(07:44):
basically creating and selling drugs, like that's what he was
doing with his chemistry experiments, and so like they would
he and his stepmom would drop in in the library
when he was supposedly there to see if he was there.
Like they really did not trust this fascin with chemistry,
which I mean, I can understand if your kid blows
himself up a couple of times, you're like, what are

(08:06):
you doing exactly here?

Speaker 1 (08:08):
Yeah.

Speaker 2 (08:08):
So I don't know if he knew that David went
and set up a lab in his mom's potting shed
or not and just was like, it's fine as long
as side of my house. I'm not sure. I've never
seen that either way. But one thing that he did
do to try to be like, okay, I think you're
creating drugs. You're probably on them, you may or may
not be selling them. None of those seem to be true.

(08:29):
From what I can tell. You need to become an
eagle scout. And he pushed his son to become an
eagle scout.

Speaker 1 (08:35):
Yeah, and that's exactly what he did, as we will
later find out. But when it came to time per
merit badge selection, he said, I want the one that
says atomic energy, and the scout master said, I think
he told the writer of the book, no one had
ever chosen that before in the history of the troop, right,

(08:57):
So it kind of reminds me of the Brian Coxceine
and Rushmore with Bill Murray when he says he's one
of the worst students we've got. I can just picture
Brian Cox saying that that no one's ever tried for
this badge before. But it was a legit badge. It's
kind of funny that it existed. It's different now, as
we'll see. But in nineteen sixty three they introduced the

(09:18):
atomic energy badge. It came with a pamphlet that they
created with the nuclear energy industry that turned out to
have a lot of really useful information. Almost like a
starter kit on how to like source radioactive elements in
the real world. Yeah, and how to get your own
reactor going.

Speaker 2 (09:38):
Yeah. One of the projects you could do was to
build your own Geiger Counter. Like it was serious stuff.

Speaker 1 (09:45):
Yeah, maybe so legit that, Like I said, the boy
Scouts would eventually change that badge. I think probably because
of what happened with David in two thousand and five.
They replaced it with the Nuclear Science Badge.

Speaker 2 (09:58):
Yes, so he's still working on the original, the Atomic
Energy Badge from nineteen sixty three. Right, Oh, yeah, So
he's just devouring this. He's having the best time. He
visits a hospital ward to learn about X rays, which
is part of the Merit Badge certification. The thing that

(10:19):
really changed things, though, Chuck, is he decided just these
things the Merit Badge was having him do. Like one
of the things was draw a diagram of a fission reaction,
or build a model of a nuclear reactor, but a
model like a cardboard model basically, or paper machine, or yes,
or I will create my own nuclear reactor in my

(10:45):
mom's potting shed. He decided he was so psyched about
atomic energy that he wanted to do it. Himself.

Speaker 1 (10:52):
Yeah. I mean, I guess you do the model and
you're like, hey, that wasn't so hard. Let me see
if I can do it for real. And he wanted
to build, and you know, this shows that he was
a kid. I think. I don't think this was to
cause harm. He wanted to build a neutron gun, and
the way I just for my research this is speculation.

(11:13):
But it didn't seem like he was like I want
to build a neutron gun to try and like blow
up the city that I live in.

Speaker 2 (11:19):
Not at all.

Speaker 1 (11:20):
It seemed more like a kid who was really into
science and sci fi and chemistry and wanted to make
a little pew pew gun.

Speaker 2 (11:28):
Yeah. I think neutron gun is a it's a misleading term.
I can't get the Nintendo Duck Hunt gun out of
my head whenever I hear neutron gun. But really, what
a neutron gun is, at least the one that David made.
It's a block of lead with a cavity carved out,
and you put radioactive material in the cavity and then

(11:49):
cover it over with like aluminum foil, and then you
just point the aluminum foil side of that block of
lead at what you want to irradiate, and then you
try to start a chain reaction, a nuclear reaction. That
seems to be the sum total of his goals. He
wasn't trying to build a bomb, he wasn't trying to
sell plutonium to the Libyans, he wasn't doing anything like that.

(12:12):
He just wanted to see if he could start a
nuclear chain reaction, this thing that had fascinated him since
he was ten years old. And so we set about
doing that with help from this eagle scout merit badge pamphlet.

Speaker 1 (12:25):
Yeah.

Speaker 2 (12:26):
Yeah, so that's the whole thing that much more nuts.

Speaker 1 (12:30):
Yeah. And also by adopting a persona as a professor,
because he starts writing into organizations, trying to get information,
trying to get materials, trying to get schematics. He said
he was Professor Hahn that taught at his high school,
Chipawa Valley High School.

Speaker 2 (12:47):
Oh goat and chipmunks are they? I don't know.

Speaker 1 (12:52):
And over the next few years, basically and apparently you know,
he he applied himself. He didn't apply himself in school.
He was smart, but he was failing almost failing out,
basically barely passing, like the math and English exams needed
to graduate eventually. But that is to say these letters
had like spelling errors and grammatical errors. It didn't seem

(13:14):
like they were written by a professor. But people bought it,
and before you know it, he's like corresponding as a
professor to these adults.

Speaker 2 (13:22):
Yeah, and these adults are just totally into this correspondence.
They're really enjoying helping this who they think a high
school physics teacher learn the stuff he's looking for about
nuclear energy to ostensibly go and teach to the kids. Right,
So this correspondence is like genuine. The only thing illegitimate
about it was that he was misrepresenting who he actually was, Yeah,

(13:44):
a professor rather than a high school student. But other
than that, everything else about it seems to be pretty neat.

Speaker 1 (13:50):
Yeah, except for the fact that it's dangerous and illegal.

Speaker 2 (13:53):
Yes. So one of the people that he corresponded with,
I think he corresponded with him the most, was named
Donald erb e Erb and he was the guy who
was the head of the department that produces isotopes. If
you need isotopes, you can go to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
This is not you, but like, if you are in
some sort of industry that uses isotopes, and this herb

(14:16):
will be like, I got you, I got you covered.
For some reason, they come in these little baggies with
like card suits printed all over him. It's weird. That's
an herb kind of touch.

Speaker 1 (14:28):
It's so nice.

Speaker 2 (14:29):
But he was. He worked for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
and nobody helped David Hahn more than Donald erb did
again unwittingly.

Speaker 1 (14:38):
Yeah, absolutely, So should we take a break.

Speaker 2 (14:42):
We should?

Speaker 1 (14:43):
Okay, all right, I was about to keep going, but
let's take a break, and we're going to talk about
his pursuit of radioactive materials right after this.

Speaker 2 (14:50):
I don't know.

Speaker 1 (15:05):
M M.

Speaker 2 (15:15):
By the way, Chuck, it's the Chipewa Valley, Big Red,
which appears to be a giant cardinal. If you ask me,
that was a that was a missed, missed opportunity. Chipmunks,
chip chipmunks, the rabbit chipmunks.

Speaker 1 (15:29):
Yeah, I love it, all right. So when we left off,
David han was getting serious about building this uh nuclear reactor.
He needs material to do that, so and we should
point out that, you know, I said it was dangerous.
It was dangerous. He did know this. He still pursued it,
but he like he had a lead shield that he

(15:51):
worked with. He threw away his contaminated clothes. He left
his shoes in there and didn't take them in his house, so.

Speaker 2 (15:57):
It was like it was driving shoes, but in a
potting show he was building a breeder reactor.

Speaker 1 (16:02):
Do you have driving shoes? Is that a thing?

Speaker 2 (16:05):
I know that it's a thing from watching old episodes
of Frasier.

Speaker 1 (16:09):
I've never heard that.

Speaker 2 (16:10):
Yes, you've seen driving shoes. People wear them and they're
totally unaware that you're not supposed to wear them out
of your car. But it's like, if your car is
so nice, you take off your outdoor shoes and put
on your driving shoes that never leave your car, and
that way you don't get car dirty. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (16:27):
I don't know if I have seen them. I guess
I just you have. You did?

Speaker 2 (16:29):
They're like they look kind of like a cross between
the loafer and a moccasin. And then the dead giveaway
is the tread on the bottom comes up the back
of the heel as well. Because of the position that
your foot is in when you're driving, it gives you grip.

Speaker 1 (16:44):
All right, I'm gonna have to look this up. You've
seen them all right, all right, so that's amazing. Fifty
two years old never knew about this.

Speaker 2 (16:55):
I was only probably forty when I learned about it,
So I don't feel bad.

Speaker 1 (16:57):
Yeah, all right. So he starts looking for materials, and
these are just a few sort of stories about he
would go about that he wanted some amoricium two forty
one for this neutron gun. In the booklet that he
got from the Boy Scouts said you can get the
stuff in smoke detectors. So he tries to steal them

(17:20):
from the Boy Scout camp, got caught and sent home early.
Then he writes smoke detector companies saying I need a
bunch of these things for a school project. Eventually one
company sold him one hundred broken ones for one hundred bucks.
Couldn't figure out how to find this amoresium, so got
in touch with another smoke detector company. It was like, oh, well,

(17:41):
here's where you find it, and was able to extract
amorsium enough to like weld together with a blowtorch.

Speaker 2 (17:49):
Yes, So remember I was talking about. The neutron gun
is a lump of lead with a cavity hollowed out
and then you put your radioactive material in the cavity
of lead. No radioactive material, that's right, Amrisium is I
looked up why it would be in smoke detectors. Did
you see why? No, it's really interesting just for a second.

(18:10):
So a marisium it because of its radioactive decay. It
creates a flow of ions, positive and negative ions that
are are moved across like this metal plate. And there's
a constant movement of ions that this americium is creating
from the air around it. And when smoke interacts with

(18:31):
those ions, it actually breaks that flow. That flow is
detected by the smoke detector, which triggers it to go off.
Isn't that just so bizarre. That's how your smoke detector works.

Speaker 1 (18:42):
And that's how they still work.

Speaker 2 (18:43):
Yeah, oh yeah, there's still a marisium in smoke detectors today.

Speaker 1 (18:47):
Amazing.

Speaker 2 (18:48):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (18:49):
So you said he built his own Geiger counter. I
don't know if it was this one or if he
ended up getting the other one, but he would drive
around Upper Michigan with this Geiger counter on, just looking
for naturally occurring uranium out in the world. And then
eventually he's like, this isn't working out, so he got
a Czechoslovakian firm that the NRC told him about and

(19:13):
sourced uranium.

Speaker 2 (19:14):
Or Yeah, he had that Geiger counter mounted to his
dashboard and apparently anytime he drove he had it turned on.
Isn't that amazing?

Speaker 1 (19:22):
Yeah, I mean that's what you gotta find this stuff.

Speaker 2 (19:24):
And he actually did find some stuff called pitch blend
and it's a source of low grade uranium and he
tried to extract it, but he couldn't purify it enough. So,
like you said, he was like, well, just buy some
pure uranium from a firm in Czechoslovakia that he heard about,
either from the pamphlet or from Donald or one of
the two.

Speaker 1 (19:43):
Yeah. Another thing he did was the little mantle like
the little mesh sacks that you tie on to a
gas lantern. He bought thousands of those because they have
little tiny amounts of thorium two thirty two, and so
you know, he buys that of these from surplus stores,
buys thousands of dollars in lithium batteries to extract lithium.

(20:05):
So he's been very you know, I think, showing a
lot of initiative at least how to find this stuff.

Speaker 2 (20:12):
Yeah, I mean, like he's using is his after school
job money to buy one thousand dollars in lithium batteries
to purify the thorium that he got from the gas
lanterns that he purchased and extracted it from. Like, I
can't imagine how much time and effort this took. And
by the way, he did purify that thorium pretty well.
I saw that he got it to nine thousand times

(20:33):
the level found in nature of radioactivity and about one
hundred and seventy times the level that you would need
a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to possess.

Speaker 1 (20:44):
He also went around, of course, where you're going to
find old, dangerous radioactive things, junk yards and antique shops.
So he would take that Geiger counter into a junk
shop or an antique store and he would walk around
until something lit up, like radium paint if you remember
our I think it was pretty excellent podcasts on the

(21:05):
Radium Girls, and he would find like radium paint in
an old clock.

Speaker 2 (21:10):
Yeah. Yeah, he found a vial of paint just tucked
away inside of one and that then he really had
his radioactive material for his neutron gun. He actually stepped
it up and built a second gun. He'd also from
corresponding with Donald Herb, gotten even better at creating a
neutron gun that was going to be useful in creating

(21:32):
a nuclear reaction. He also found that when he used
the radium on I think the thorium that he purified,
he was trying to trigger a chain reaction by bombarding
thorium with neutrons. That's what he was trying to do.
He found that the thorium wasn't converting into uranium like
it was supposed to, so he contacted Donald RB and

(21:54):
Donald ERB said, your neutrons are too fast. You got
to slow him down. One of the best ways to
slow him down is tritium. And he said, well, where
would I find tritium? And apparently they use tritium to
make the glowing sites on gun scopes and gun sights.
So he ordered I think dozens of gun sights from
Miller catalogs from stores, and then he would scrape the

(22:16):
tritium off and then send them back and say, I
need this site repaired. There's no tritium on it, and
they would put more tritium on it and send it back,
and he just created a new pseudonym and send that back.
And that's how methodical that kid was.

Speaker 1 (22:30):
So this is all kid stuff. He's like fourteen, fifteen
years old. Eventually he turned seventeen, and he says, all right,
I think I want to build an actual nuclear reactor.
It's called a tiny breeder reactor. They've been around since
the early nineteen fifties when the US developed them, when

(22:50):
we were you know, sort of the beginning of the
age of trying to use nuclear power for electricity, and
they're like, well, these little tiny breeder reactors might be
a good way to extend the supply of fuel or something.
It never quite worked out that way. I think they're
still working on that kind of thing in Russia and China,
but it never really went off the ground. But it

(23:10):
was enough to inspire David to think that maybe I
can build a small thing like this in my mom's
potting garage or potting shed.

Speaker 2 (23:19):
Yeah. The difference between a breeder reactor and a regular
reactor is that you in a regular reactor, you just
use fuel and you get energy from the fuel. With
the breeder reactor, you get energy from the fuel, but
it also creates more fuel and you end up with
more fuel than you started with. I saw it liken
to leaving your house or the car with the half

(23:39):
a tank of gas and when you return home the
tank is full. That's kind of like what it does.
And yet they just could never get it to work.
But that's what he was trying to do. And the
reason why is because you start with uranium two thirty eight,
and that's the most abundant uranium found in nature.

Speaker 1 (23:56):
That's right. So he doesn't have enough uranium, matter what
kind it is, to create an actual chain reaction for
normal reactors. So he says, maybe I can at least
do something like it. Seemed like he became sort of
obsessed just with this goal of creating some kind of
nuclear reaction himself, got a blueprint from one of his

(24:17):
dad's textbooks, took that emericium in the radium from his
neutron guns, mixed it with some aluminum, shaving some beryllium,
wrap that up in aluminum foil, and basically you have
yourself a very small reactor core right there.

Speaker 2 (24:34):
Yeah, he created an atomic pile like the first one
that FORMI created in Chicago, but on a much much
smaller scale. But it worked like it worked. He created,
like you said, a nuclear reactor, and it started a
nuclear chain reaction and it started to take off actually
pretty quickly.

Speaker 1 (24:52):
Yeah, he's got that Geiger counter and he's measuring this
thing like on a daily basis, and he's like it's
actually growing, like it's getting more radio active in here.
I imagine he was thrilled and also possibly a little
bit like Matthew Broderick in wargames where it's like, oh,
wait a minute, like what have I done here, such

(25:16):
that he was worried and took it apart.

Speaker 2 (25:18):
He did. Apparently he could detect it from five houses
down the street. And I looked up pictures of Golf
Manner and I mean their yards are decent size, so
five houses away is a pretty good distance to be
able to pick up his nuclear reactor in his mom's
potting shed with his Geiger counter. And at that big
sideyards there, yeah, lots of big side yards. No zero lines, no, no, no,

(25:42):
nothing like that. No, this is Golf manner Man that
we're talking about. So he took it apart and he
just kind of distributed the different parts to try to
drop the radioactivity levels in his mom's potting shed and
he kind of went about his life after he disassembled
his reactor. He'd achieved his goal, but apparently he had

(26:05):
a penchant for stealing wheels and tires off of cars.
He admitted as much in an interview later on as
an adult, and he seems to have gotten caught doing
that by the police shortly after he disassembled his reactor.
And when the police caught him, they said, we're going
to search your car, and he said, go ahead, search

(26:27):
my car, but do not open that toolbox. That toolbox
is highly radioactive.

Speaker 1 (26:33):
Is that a good cliffhanger for a break?

Speaker 2 (26:35):
I think so. Imagine the cops going what they're.

Speaker 1 (26:39):
Like, we got to listen to ads before we know
what happens. Sorry, all right, we'll be right back, all right.

(27:08):
So it's August almost September nineteen ninety four. That reactor
is taking apart. I think you put the thorium in
a shoe box. The radium in the americium was in
the shed still, and the rest is in the trunk
of his car. He's just been pulled over, like you said,
because there was reports that he was stealing tires and wheels,

(27:32):
and he said, warning that things radioactive don't open up
that toolbox. So they said, well, maybe we should. This
sounds like an ied to me and improvised explosive device.
Why don't we call him the bomb squad to be safe,
called in the bomb squad, they said, this whole car
basically is radioactive, and all of a sudden, the Federal

(27:53):
Radiological Emergency Response Plan is triggered, and the EPA and
the FBI and the INNER and the DOE are in
the state and local authorities are all like trying to
not trying to get this kid, but trying to figure
out what in the world is going on with this kid.

Speaker 2 (28:11):
Yeah, he's seventeen at the time still, and all of
a sudden, these huge agencies are like swooping down on
him to figure out what's going on. The thing is,
I guess they didn't think to ask the right questions
or their imaginations just didn't go as far as they
could have. But they seem to have in this initial

(28:31):
questioning not really have gotten any further than his car,
And he didn't offer up any information whatsoever about his
actual like nuclear reaction experiments in his mom's potting shed.
They didn't even know there was a potting shed at
his mom's house.

Speaker 1 (28:47):
Really hard believe.

Speaker 2 (28:48):
Yes, but that's the level of questioning that this kid
was subjected to. And I mean, in retrospect, you're like,
are you guys kidding? You didn't know about the potting
shed right off the bat. But if you're an FBI agent,
Department of Energy agent, and you're talking to a seventeen
year old kid, you're probably not going to assume that
because they have this stuff and a toolbox in their car,

(29:10):
they actually were successfully creating nuclear chain reactions in their
mom's potting shed. I can kind of commiserate with that.

Speaker 1 (29:18):
Sure, you probably assume you just got it at radiation
are pretty much so. A few months later is when
they finally got an expert from the state Department of
Public Health to interview David more thoroughly, and that turned
up the potting shed. David's mom at this point had

(29:39):
gathered most of the radioactive stuff and gotten rid of it, I imagine,
not in a very safe way at all, probably just
went in the trash can. And they still found a
lot of radiation at the house and the materials there
in the shed they had apparently those of vegetable can
that had about a thousand times the normal back ground radiation.

(30:01):
And so they called in federal authorities and they said, well,
your house is this, Well, the potting shed at least
is a superpun site.

Speaker 2 (30:10):
Yeah. They ended up spending sixty grand on a two
to three day operation between June twenty sixth and twenty
eighth of nineteen ninety five disassembling the potting shed, I think,
getting some of the earth around it out of there,
putting them in sealed barrels with you know, radioactive hazard
symbols on it, and they sent it to the Great

(30:31):
Salt Lake Desert where they were buried with other canisters
of low level radioactive waste. His mom's potting shed is
in a Great Salt Lake desert buried with other radioactive material.
That's kind of neat. The real stuff though, like you said,
it ended up in like the landfill nearby. There was

(30:52):
a quote from David that I saw where he said
the authorities got the garbage, and the garbage got the
good stuff, in reference to what his mom and thrown away. So, yeah,
there's some lumps of amrisium and radium sitting somewhere in
the garbage pile outside of Clinton Commerce.

Speaker 1 (31:12):
Township and what's in like a thousand years, it'll be safe.

Speaker 2 (31:16):
Probably something like that.

Speaker 1 (31:19):
I was just I don't know how long that would be.
I bet somebody knows.

Speaker 2 (31:21):
So oh though right now.

Speaker 1 (31:23):
So David falls into depression after this. His high school
classmates were not kind to him. Of course, they called
him radioactive boy. The EPA said, Hi, we should you know,
we can examine you in your body to see if
you're okay. He said, no, no, no, I don't want

(31:44):
anything to do with that. I'll be fine. He did
get that Eagle Scout badge. I think the Scout leaders
are like, should we really do this? But they did.
They give him that Eagle Scout badge. And no, apparently
that the neighborhoods, all those huge side yards came in
handy because no one in the neighborhood, and no one

(32:06):
at the home or in his family apparently ever, suffered
from any kind of radiation sickness.

Speaker 2 (32:11):
That is so lucky. Yeah, like that is really lucky
for him and for everybody, but he no one got hurt.
That's just mind boggling. At this point, he went on
and joined the Navy a couple of years later, and
he served for several years. Was honorably discharged and ironically

(32:31):
served on the USS Enterprise, which is a nuclear submarine,
but he didn't work in any capacity near the nuclear
part of the submarine.

Speaker 1 (32:41):
He I think he fully served his time in the Navy.

Speaker 2 (32:44):
He did. Yeah, he was honorably discharged.

Speaker 1 (32:46):
No, no, No, I think I think he was discharged from
the Marines. I think he like he fully served his
time in the Navy. Oh, I thought they thought he
was never discharged.

Speaker 2 (32:54):
I thought they discharged you when your time was up too.

Speaker 1 (32:57):
No, you just you're just done. You just like a
discharge means it's time for you to go. And they're like, wait,
I got three more years, and they're like, no, it's
time for you.

Speaker 2 (33:05):
To get gotcha, Okay, I gotcha all right. So yes,
in between the Navy and the Marines, he went to
college and started working on an associate's degree. Like you said,
he joined the Marines. He was honorably discharged, and his
life was just not going the way he wanted it to.
Two thousand and seven found him unemployed. His mental illness

(33:26):
had really kind of kicked in, and toward the end
of his life spoiler alert, he died at age thirty
nine there was an FBI report on him where somebody
had been informing on him that he was not using
his meds, that he was heavily using cocaine, and that
he was acting really paranoid. From what I can tell

(33:49):
based on the FBI documents, it seems like the person
informing on him seems concerned, not like they're doing it
out of any kind of vengeful reason.

Speaker 1 (33:58):
Right.

Speaker 2 (33:58):
But when FBI showed up and interviewed him again, this
is when he's in his thirties, he passed all the
inspection or queries that they gave him, questioning that they
gave him.

Speaker 1 (34:13):
Yeah, and there were you know, there were other complaints
and reports with the police that you know, he was
trying to do this again, that he had a small
reactor at his house. Another landlord I think, said that
he had stolen some smoke detectors that they were missing,
and they found them, like you know, torn apart, basically

(34:33):
near David's garage. But they never they never found any
kind of radiation. He said he hadn't done that kind
of stuff in a decade, and you know, they went
and checked like where he was living, and they never
found any evidence that he had at least started up
any more radioactive work.

Speaker 2 (34:49):
Yeah. Imagine during your FBI questioning, you're like, I haven't
done any nuclear reactions at home for like ten years. Man,
that's like that is a different chet. It's like a
lifetime and age stuff. Yeah, exactly. The FBI documents also
give just kind of a sad note. In twenty ten,
which is where the FBI's investigation of him as an

(35:12):
adult left off based on those complaints, they noted that
he was in rehab after being charged with a bunch
of drug charges. So apparently the cocaine use thing was true.
That was twenty ten, six years later, like I said,
he was dead at age thirty nine.

Speaker 1 (35:30):
Yeah. So in the media, of course, initially there were
some people that said that the radioactivity did him in
or that was a factor at least very sadly, the
report came back that wasn't true. But he died from
combined effects of alcohol and fentanyl and ben a drill,
and he suffered from mental illness just like his mom,

(35:53):
I think, from paranoid schizophrenia and depression. And it's just
a very sad to a story of the kid. He
sounds like he was really smart and just wanted to
try and do something really amazing, you know.

Speaker 2 (36:07):
Yeah, he was found dead in the bathroom at the
Walmart that he had gone shopping in the night he died.
And it is a sad end. I don't quite know
what to make of it, Chuck.

Speaker 1 (36:18):
Like jam it's if he was still alive.

Speaker 2 (36:22):
I don't know. I think it would be a much
different story somehow.

Speaker 1 (36:26):
Yeah, but he did something.

Speaker 2 (36:28):
I don't know. Maybe it's the story of somebody who
was just so single minded they did something that most
other people would have given up on or never even attempted.
And that's worth mentioning, you.

Speaker 1 (36:37):
Know, Yeah, absolutely, And I tried to look at other angles.
I just I never saw anything like nefarious. Really no.

Speaker 2 (36:46):
No, either an FBI interview or a media interview, the
interviewer was like, I mean, were you thinking of making
a bomb or whatever? And they said they reported like
he seemed to just be like that never even crossed
my mind, Like, no, it's not at all what I
was doing. He was just obsessed with creating a nuclear
reaction and.

Speaker 1 (37:05):
He did it. Yeah. Well, thankfully we don't have to
end it on that sad note, because Livia found this
other great story of a kid named Taylor Wilson who
got the radio Active Boy Scout book from his grandmother
as an eleven year old science kid and operating under

(37:25):
supervision and oversight and getting real experts to help, actually
became the youngest person to achieve nuclear fusion at the
age of fourteen.

Speaker 2 (37:35):
Yeah, this is amazing. I mean, fusion is a whole
new ballgame.

Speaker 1 (37:39):
But yeah, fourteen and works as a nuclear physicist as
an adult.

Speaker 2 (37:44):
Yeah, and supposedly, according to The Guardian, a super cool
dude too.

Speaker 1 (37:48):
Yeah, and directly inspired from David's story.

Speaker 2 (37:51):
Yeah, and apparently his grandmother lived to regret it again
according to The Guardian. Oh really Yeah, that's what the
Guardian said, because I guess his grandmother was giving it
to him as a cautionary tale and he was like, oh,
I want to try this miss out.

Speaker 1 (38:06):
Very interesting.

Speaker 2 (38:08):
Taylor Wilson's grandmother is the eleventh person we need to
thank in this episode, Taylor Wilson being ten and Donald
Irb being number nine.

Speaker 1 (38:16):
Right, nice work.

Speaker 2 (38:18):
If you want to know more about the Nuclear or
Radioactive Boy Scout, David Han, there's a lot of stuff
out there, but you would be remiss in not reading
Ken Silverstein's article at least, if not his book on
David Hant. And while you're looking that up, we'll just
go ahead and do listener mail.

Speaker 1 (38:37):
All right, this is from Tiffany. Hey, guys, thank you
for bringing back some vivid memories from my eighth grade
reading class too many decades ago to admit. But my
reading teacher was also the social studies teacher, and I
guess that explains where all of our reading lists included
Animal Farm, Hiroshima, all applied on the Western Front and
you know it The Jungle by Upton Sinclair to Ham

(39:00):
home what we read. He would incorporate details of the
book into a little imaginary coin toss he did each
day to determine whether the boys or girls got to
go first and walk to lunch in single file line.
For the weeks we discussed the Jungle. It would sound
something like this. Today's menu includes hot dogs. Call it
in the air. Is it the rusty nail or the
severed finger? What a great teacher. One day we noticed

(39:23):
that half the kids in the class had an edition
of the book that included this, and yes, I still
remember it. Decades later. Mary had a little lamb and
when she saw it sicken. She sent it off to
the packing town and now it's labeled chicken. I was
really hoping you guys had seen this so we could
hear a recitation during the podcast, but we just did

(39:47):
it right there, Tiffany.

Speaker 2 (39:48):
That's great. Yeah, I didn't run across that.

Speaker 1 (39:50):
I didn't neither. That's a great ad.

Speaker 2 (39:51):
Yeah, thanks a lot, Tiffany. That's a great email and
we appreciate it big time. And hats off to your teacher.
The thirteenth person we need to thank in this episode.
You're number twelve, Tiffany, Can we think, Jerry? Sure? Why not?
We'll go with fourteen. We could thank ourselves and just
bring it up to sixteen, a nice.

Speaker 1 (40:09):
Even number, sweet sixteen.

Speaker 2 (40:11):
We're gonna make it seventeen because we want to thank
you for listening, and we want to thank you in
advance for getting in touch with this via email. It's
stuff podcast at iHeartRadio dot com. Stuff You Should Know
is a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 1 (40:25):
For more podcasts my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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