THE RADIOACTIVE BOY SCOUT: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor

Ken Silverstein, Author . Random $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-50351-1

In the summer of 1995, a teenager in a Detroit suburb, a mediocre student with a relentless scientific curiosity, managed to build a rudimentary nuclear breeder reactor in a shed behind his mother's house, using radioactive elements obtained from items as ordinary as smoke detectors. He got so far along in his efforts that when the Feds finally caught up with him, the EPA used Superfund money (usually spent on the worst hazardous waste sites) to clean up the shed. Building on a Harper's article, Silverstein, an investigative reporter for the L.A. Times , fleshes out David Hahn's atomic escapades, and though it takes a while for the story to kick into gear, readers will be sucked in not just by how Hahn did it but how he was able to get away with it. His "pathologically oblivious" father comes in for the sharpest criticism, but Silverstein takes note of the teachers who failed to pick up on Hahn's cues (his friends called him "glow boy") and the Department of Energy official who offered crucial tips on creating a neutron gun. Silverstein also examines the pronuclear ideology Hahn picked up in the Boy Scouts (where he had earned an atomic energy merit badge) and dated government publications that touted nuclear power while glossing over setbacks in the troubled breeder reactor program. And though there's little mention of how easily terrorists could duplicate Hahn's feat, perhaps the accomplishment of one obsessed teen is scary enough in its own right. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (On sale Mar. 2)

Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-8129-6660-2
Open Ebook - 106 pages - 978-1-58836-356-5
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!