The Radioactive Boy Scout
The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor
By Ken Silverstein
(Villard, Paperback, 9780812966602, 240pp.)
Publication Date: January 11, 2005
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Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science. While he was 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 model nuclear reactor in his backyard garden shed.
Posing as a physics professor, David solicited information on reactor design from the U.S. government and from industry experts. Following blueprints he found in an outdated physics textbook, David cobbled together a crude device that threw off toxic levels of radiation. His wholly unsupervised project finally sparked an environmental emergency that put his town’s forty thousand suburbanites at risk. The EPA ended up burying his lab at a radioactive dumpsite in Utah. This offbeat account of ambition and, ultimately, hubris has the narrative energy of a first-rate thriller.
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.
“Anyone who has ever wondered what the neighborhood geek might be brewing up in his backyard should read The Radioactive Boy Scout. This is a riveting and disturbing story about the power of the teenage mind—and the sparks that fly when a nuclear family melts down.”
—David Kushner, author of Masters of Doom
“Amazing . . . unsettling . . . should come with a warning: Don’t buy [this book] for any obsessive kids in the family. It might give them ideas.”
–Rocky Mountain News
“An astounding story . . . [Silverstein] has a novelist’s eye for meaningful detail and a historian’s touch for context.”
–The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Alarming . . . The story fascinates from start to finish.”
“Enthralling . . . [It] has the quirky pleasures of a Don DeLillo novel or an Errol Morris documentary. . . . An engaging portrait of a person whose life on America’s fringe also says something about mainstream America.”
–Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[Silverstein] does a fabulous job of letting David [Hahn’s] surrealistic story tell itself. . . . But what’s truly amazing is how far Hahn actually got in the construction of his crude nuclear reactor.”
–The Columbus Dispatch