Talk:David Hahn

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The second sentence is grammatically incorrect, it has no predicate. -- Wikidiego 19:57, 8 August 2007 (UTC) h


WHY in the world was he trying to build a toxic nuclear reactor? --Menchi 01:35, 3 May 2005 (UTC)

Read the article. He was trying, supposedly, to solve all the world's energy problems. He also didn't really realize how dangerous it was. (And most of us have an inflated idea of how dangerous radiation is, compared to, say, heavy metal poisoning - have you ever handled mercury? I have) --Andrew 01:56, May 3, 2005 (UTC)
Why did my father and his buddies make radios when they were kids? Why did they also make explosives (hardly more than a couple firecrackers from what I recall of the stories)? They were interested. They were smart enough and had the know how. They never used this knowledge for any nefarious acts, they just wanted to do these things to learn. I doubt that this kid ever thought that'd he'd have something substantial in his shed. I doubt that he ever thought it would do much harm and if the EPA hadn't stepped in, he probably would have disposed of it all once his curiousity was sated.
And yes, I've played with mercury too. Wicked cool stuff! Dismas 06:40, 12 Jun 2005 (UTC)
People also play with high voltage electricity too, because they find it fun. It's just in human nature to be interested in things that can potentially be dangerous. Ilikefood (talk) 00:32, 21 November 2007 (UTC)
Although it's alluded to in the article, in the biography it states he wanted to collect all the elements in the periodic table, hence his wish to obtain uranium. The book is an excellent read, by the way. Andromeda321 01:49, 21 August 2005 (UTC)

What is not compulsory is forbidden, what is not forbidden is compulsory...[edit]

David Hahn had already earned the Boy Scouts of America merit badge in Atomic Energy and apparently had enough genuine interest in the subject to want to create a nuclear fission chain reaction on his own.

Just like Otto Hahn, really.Eregli bob (talk) 06:53, 21 January 2012 (UTC)

So he called people up in the US Department of Energy, told them what he wanted to do, and they told him where to look for what he needed to have.

Nuclear reactors are no more "toxic" than many chemical reactor vessels. In both cases, the skill and knowledge of the operator is what determines the "toxicity" of the reactor.

In Hahn's case, the US Environmental Protection Agency was probably guilty of grandstanding about what it was doing, and possibly even slandering Hahn. The radionuclide burden of what Hahn had assembled out of junked smoke detectors and gas lantern mantles couldn't have measured over a few grams, total, and yet the EPA was squawking over Hahn having assembled enough radioactivity to contaminate the entire town he lived in.

What they didn't say is that the jewelry counter in an average K-Mart or Wal-Mart has about the same amount of radionuclides. How d'ya think the little dots by the numbers in a wristwatch glow in the dark? It's because they have tritium - radioactive hydrogen, very evil stuff if you get enough in you - in the paint on those dots. You'd have to spend a LOT of time scraping those dots into a test tube and then carrying off the tritium in order to get into trouble.

Likewise, to contaminate anything but David Hahn's backyard, every bit of what he'd collected in the way of radioactives would have had to have been ground into fine dust and then sprayed over the city by crop duster aircraft. But the EPA never mentioned this, because then they might have had to explain to Mr. Hahn's Representative and Senators why they were conducting a huge raid to contain a tiny amount of contamination.

As far as I'm concerned, Hahn's motive was purely scientific - he wanted to understand first hand how fission chain reactions work. In other words, this kid was doing what Enrico Fermi tried in one of the squash courts of the University of Chicago in 1942. Fermi got a lot of recognition and awards, while Hahn got hassled.

Hahn might have been guilty of not contacting his state's regulatory agency for radiation, but he'd already contacted the US Department of Energy and not only did they say they thought his project would be legal, they gave him hints on where to find what he needed. I'd say that showed a good faith effort on Mr. Hahn's part to make sure he was working within the bounds of the law.

This is not exactly true. If you read the magazine article, what you find is that he was measuring radiation many houses away. This is not, of course, because the radiation travelled that far; it is because he was tracking radioactive dust all over the place.
It is indeed true that you can produce chemical contamination, if sufficiently determined; I myself made chlorine gas for a science project in high school. I paid no particular attention to good ventilation, and the containment system was, frankly, terrible. However, it is a real challenge to produce long-lived chemical contamination that is easily spread.

Not really. Dioxins are made as a byproduct of polychlorinated biphenyl production, or when PCBs are used as coolants in electrical transformers for years, or when nitrophenyl compounds are used to make herbicides. Several incidents in which industrial mishaps or fraudulent disposal or waste oils have distributed small quantities of dioxins are on record - in the Seveso mishap, an explosion at the ICMESA plant caused the spread of a few kilograms of dioxin in the basin between Milan and Lake Como, killing 3,000 pets and farm animals and causing 193 cases of chloracne (which is, according to a prominent toxicologist, what is wrong with Ukranian President Vitaly Yurchenko). Another chemical plant explosion, this one in the Netherlands, released less than a kilogram and made a couple dozen people ill.

Quantities of radioactive material are best measured in Becquerels, not in grams; using this measure, David Hahn's accumulation was certainly much greater than a jewelry counter (since one of the many ways he accumulated radioactive materials was by scraping them off (many) gunsights). More importantly, in a jewelry counter, the radioactive material is nicely encapsulated and tied down; David Hahn was grinding, scraping, and chemically purifying the stuff, which got it all over the place.
Finally, of course, there is the true fact in your argument: people are unjustifiably afraid of radiation. Even if you accept the hotly debated linear no-threshold model of radiation hazard, people are worried way out of proportion to the actual danger. This is made worse by the fact that tiny levels of radioactive contamination are readily detected, while much more dangerous levels of chemical contamination are often undetectable. Compare, for example, the Chernobyl accident and the Bhopal disaster. --Andrew 23:24, May 23, 2005 (UTC)
Bullshit. The Chernobyl area (Pripjaty city and beyond) will be uninhabitable for many generations. Children suffer cancer hunders of miles away. Chemical pollution is possible to eradicate afterwards, because any molecule can be broken down with sufficient effort. In contrast radioactivity comes from the elements (isotopes) and so you cannot do anything about it. Even if you take the radwaste away and hide it under granite mountains, it will keep radiating massively for hundreds or thousands of years.
Americans should not dismiss the severity of Scale 7 Chernobyl disaster, because they are not living here in central-eastern Europe. There is no limit to human stupidity, not just in Chernobyl, but in America an early BWR reactor was blown up by a homicidal-suicidal operator over the wife cheating him.
As for the original poster reciting the ultra-liberal mantra, you shall remember that your freedoms do NOT cover hurting other's freedoms or their right to live. Hahn did hurt his neighbours and I think the wiki article should list him as a terrorist, because what he built was a dirty bomb in effect. Who is going to pay the medical expenses exposed people may incur later in their lives due to his radiactive pollution? Even the lead he used is a very dangerous metal and almost totally banned in Europe already. Not even fishing rod accessories can use it any more.
(For "ultra-liberal", replace with "ultra-libertarian." There's a difference. :) --Petzl (talk) 19:43, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
How is Hahn better than the shoe bomber? You are a terrorist notbecause of your intentions, but because you instill terror in people with your actions. And he did.
Commenting on the above unsigned post submitted from an Hungarian proxy on December 7, 2005, Hahn could hardly be designated as a terrorist unless some intent to intimidate or coerce people by instilling terror has been indicated. I have seen no such accusations in Hahn's case. meco 10:17, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
Furthermore, he did not build a "dirty bomb". A "dirty bomb" is bomb made of conventional explosives intended to spread some sort of radioactive contaminant over a large area. He had the "dirt", but not the "bomb". Ilikefood (talk) 00:36, 21 November 2007 (UTC)
"Even the lead he used is a very dangerous metal and almost totally banned in Europe already. Not even fishing rod accessories can use it any more."

too much BS

It's been pointed out that the caustic chemicals in batteries (including batteries in smoke detectors) can be used for extracting drugs from over the counter medicines, and that amphetamine abuse often leads to open sores on the skin. Hahn might have had non-radiological uses for the stolen smoke alarms.

Greenlit on Fark[edit]

Watch this page guys. It's been greenlit on Fark, it could be a trap. - Hahnchen 00:09, 21 August 2005 (UTC)

Merit badge[edit]

was an Eagle Scout candidate who had previously earned a merit badge in Atomic Energy after years of basement chemistry tinkering that included small explosions.

This makes it sound like the Atomic Energy merit badge had something to do with the explosions. I earned my Atomic Energy merit badge probably just a few years after this fellow, and it basically involved reading some stuff and talking about it with a merit badge counselor. No chemistry. Someone should invesigate exactly what the requirements were whenever he took it, and clear that sentence up.

I've looked over the requirements for the Atomic Energy merit badge (which, btw, has been superceded by the Nuclear Science badge as of 2005). They can be found here: For the most part they seem to involve learning about the history and some of the mechanics involved (like making models of atoms and whatnot). There is a section where you have to do three out of ten projects. Most involve visiting somewhere and explaining what you saw there, though a few are more hands on (using/making a geiger counter, planting irradiated seeds, and, most interestingly, building a model of a nuclear reactor), but none of them nescessitates anything that explodes. I think, however, from summaries of the Ken Silverstein biography, that David did probably blow a few things up, possibly in projects related to the merit badge. The sentence should probably be changed to read something like "was an Eagle Scout candidate who had previously earned a merit badge in Atomic Energy, and had experimented for years in basement chemistry tinkering that included small explosions." However, I'm not totally sure of this, so I plan to wait for someone with more experience (and knowledge of the situation; i.e. someone who read the biography) to second the edit. - BaKanale 17:44, 8 January 2006 (UTC)

On the topic of sensationalism[edit]

The Environmental Protection Agency, having designated Hahn's mother's property as a Superfund hazardous materials cleanup site

Was this site really superfund? I could not find it in the EPA superfund NPL, CERCLIS, or archive database for 1994-1995 or oakland county. Would prefer someone with more experience with EPA second this. - Eekthorp 04:31, 11 January 2006 (UTC)

I wasn't able to find a superfund site that would match this story, either. The only one in Commerce, MI is for "Venture Rim Products", which is contaminated with "methylene diphenyl disocyanate". Doing a search for radioactive sites in MI doesn't seem to turn up anything close to what was described here. [1] Wyoskier 04:48, 22 February 2006 (UTC)

The book says that Jodi Traub, who was in charge of Superfund then, authorized action. I think the problem here is that Superfund has an emergency response component which came into play, rather than the long-term remedial sites program. I'll modify accordingly. --Dhartung | Talk 01:16, 15 July 2006 (UTC)
No, wait, here it is: Union Lake Radiation Site, with EPA# MI0001091214. --Dhartung | Talk 02:45, 15 July 2006 (UTC)


It is still not understood if David performed this experiment in Clinton Township, MI or Commerce Township, MI. Does anyone have evidence from the book that can be used to substantiate this? There is a Golf Manor in Commerce Township, but it does not have a course at its enterance, it is across the street. 06:43, 24 April 2006 (UTC) 4-24-06

The answer seems to be (according to the book) that his father lived in Clinton Township, but his mother lived in Commerce Township, and that's where the potting shed was. His scout troop, school, and much of his collecting activity took place in Clinton, but the bulk of his experiments were in Commerce. --Dhartung | Talk 23:13, 14 July 2006 (UTC)

Not "The" Fermilab[edit]

I work at Fermilab, and while it is "The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory", the abbreviated form is just "Fermilab", not "The Fermilab", nor even "the Fermilab". I'm making the change in the article. 21:28, 15 August 2006 (UTC) Jon Wilson

Thanks! (With a change this minor, though, a note in the edit summary (as you did) is usually sufficient.) --Dhartung | Talk 22:37, 15 August 2006 (UTC)

Refused to be tested at least 2 times[edit]

Anyone know why he refused to be tested? Salad Days 21:11, 16 December 2006 (UTC)

-- I'm curious as well
Most people don't like finding out they committed suicide. Moreover, at the time the authorities only had access to most of his equipment, but the actual valuable radioactive sources were hidden. At first, he probably didn't want them to find out exactly how much radioactive material he had messed with, later realizing how much time he could have taken out of his life.

"a breeder reactor was actually successfully (and safely) built by two University of Chicago students"[edit]

That sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to me, and the website linked doesn't even claim that they built a breeder reactor. It says they built a plutonium-producing reactor. I'm guessing that they used a neutron source to bombard uranium and produce plutonium (that's how plutonium was first discovered). Saying "breeder reactor" implies a much bigger beast, where a critical mass of nuclear fuel is used for fission and the neutrons that come out from the reaction are used to produce the plutonium. Itub 18:19, 15 January 2007 (UTC)


Nothing in this article constitutes an invention afaik. A Wiki search didnt turn up any claim of him inventing anything, so I'm wondering why this article is tagged 'american inventors' Tabby 08:49, 8 July 2007 (UTC)

In his mugshot, his face is covered with sores which investigators claim are from exposure to radioactive materials[edit]

I read through the linked articles and nowhere does it claim the investigators says the sores are from radiocative materials. Can someone confirm this?

And there is nothing in the Thorium article to indicate it would cause such sores.

The Fox News article says "Police say that Hahn's face was covered with open sores, possibly from constant exposure to radioactive materials." I think it is probably unrelated. 16 smoke detectors isn't enough to have a significant source of radioactivity anyway; remember he needed at least 100 to do his first little "reactor." My bet is that the sores are related to something else; my bet is that the smoke detector theft is related to something else. -- 23:23, 25 August 2007 (UTC)

I have just added the mugshot in question to the page. See for yourself. -- Jdsouza 19:05, 5 October 2007 (UTC)
Looking at that picture I am very skeptical about that being caused by radiation exposure. That does not look like what I would expect to see. Legions can be seen, but generally those kind of sores would only be even remotely possible if he held a high energy particle emitter to his face for a while. Doesn't look like gamma radiation damage at all. And unless he managed to get his hands on some very very powerful stuff, that sort of acute poisoning is just impossible 15 smoke detectors would never do that to you 100 smoke detectors would not either. I suspect the authorities were not well versed in things, but I'm suspicious of other things. That looks to me very much like what you see in meth users who sometimes pick at their skin. I'd like to get an expert opinion, but in any case, I think that it's likely it is something else.DrBuzz0 (talk) 21:56, 21 November 2007 (UTC)
Looks like acne vulgaris to me.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 21:34, 25 June 2008 (UTC)

According to the Original article in Harper's Magazine by Ken Silverstein, the final form of What David Hahn built took a couple year to put together: an effective neutron gun of Radium salt fabricated from Radium Paint as an alpha radiation source moderated by a filter a shot into beryllium which was the neutron source for reacting with home purified Thorium from lithium batteries and Uranium 233 obtained from home processed pitchblende; at times both trying to enrich the Thorium and Uranium. The Americium from several thousand scavenged smoke detectors was just the first source of alpha particles he found. He was using laboratory scale chemistry to legitimately if slowly enrich thorium and uranium that were collected and confirmed by the EPA. (talk) 15:43, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

Court records show he's been arrested numerous times since then for possession of a controlled substance, failing drug tests, and "maintaining a drug house," whatever that means. I think the sores are likely methamphetamine-related. -- Littlererun 11:29, 22 Jun 2010 (PDT)

That's the thought on [2] cf. Acute radiation syndrome and Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko where there is hair loss, but clear skin. -- Limulus (talk) 20:24, 30 September 2012 (UTC)
Futher down, someone claiming to be his aunt also claims that it was a skin virus. Given the mounting evidence for schizophrenia and the lack of other meth-related skin markings. It would certainly explain his odd behavior and the petty drug record.Indolering (talk) 00:59, 26 July 2013 (UTC)

WikiProject class rating[edit]

This article was automatically assessed because at least one article was rated and this bot brought all the other ratings up to at least that level. BetacommandBot 11:09, 27 August 2007 (UTC)

Mother's suicide[edit]

I removed these sentences:

All of this media caused his mother to go crazy and she ended up killing herself. She was the only one in David's life besides Heather (girlfriend) that loved him. After her death David rejoined the Navy.

because, although Patty Hahn did commit suicide, I could find no sources stating that she went "crazy" due to media attention (and none were given) Also, it reads a little too informal for an encyclopedia...if anyone can find a source, and perhaps rewrite it, feel free. --Robaato (talk) 19:06, 3 February 2008 (UTC)

The book mentions that she had schizophrenia. She was certainly not "driven crazy" by the media, it was a long-term problem. I think that it's inappropriate to add to this page. I hope David gets some help. Indolering (talk) 00:45, 26 July 2013 (UTC)

Radium paint missing[edit]

I read the book about Hahn a couple of years ago, and I recall that Hahn's main source of radioactive material was a bottle of radium paint he found in an old grandfather clock. This isn't mentioned in the article, which implies that he scraped his material off old watches and smoke detectors. Am I recalling correctly? --Pariah Press (talk) 00:46, 15 March 2008 (UTC)

Yes, I think you're right. I recall that as well. -- (talk) 20:43, 5 September 2008 (UTC)
This page mentions a radium paint bottle. - Soulkeeper (talk) 16:42, 4 November 2008 (UTC)

More Info on David Hahn[edit]

Anyone know his middle name? I'm in the Navy and curious of his achievements, my searches on our database shows one result, but I doubt it's him. Thefinalwolf (talk) 12:33, 19 September 2009 (UTC)

C. is his middle initial. (talk) 23:29, 21 May 2010 (UTC)
Charles. (talk) 02:04, 22 May 2010 (UTC)

Duran Duran[edit]

I cant find a support for this claim, can anyone fond one? Off2riorob (talk) 16:46, 22 June 2011 (UTC)

The Duran Duran song "Playing with Uranium" is based on David Hahn's exploits.

I presume this discussion refers to a 'culture' reference that is no longer present in the article? The Seventh Taylor (talk) 23:30, 20 March 2013 (UTC)

"2011 arrest of copycat breeder" - why would this belong here?[edit]

Why is this even here? It was done by another person (Richard Handl), though he also wanted to make a breeder reactor, but no connection between them - or if there is, I'm totally blind. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:56, 3 August 2011 (UTC)

Removed. No evidence that it was a copycat. Bengeance (talk) 05:49, 4 August 2011 (UTC)

He stole the batteries[edit]

Silverstein's book writes that he actually shoplifted the lithium batteries, not purchased them. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:30, 24 October 2011 (UTC)

That's true, it's on page 152 of the book. There are some other discrepancies between the article and the book. For example apparently (I haven't read it) the article says he used a Bunsen burner, but the book says he used a torch. I'd be inclined to prefer the book, as I assume the author did more research for the book and made some corrections. Kendall-K1 (talk) 16:08, 11 May 2012 (UTC)

Big Bang Theory[edit]

Episode 4 of The Big Bang Theory (season 1), The Luminous Fish Effect tells of Sheldon trying to construct a nuclear reactor in his shed during his childhood -- an obvious reference to David Hahn? Worthwhile mentioning? The Seventh Taylor (talk) 23:54, 20 March 2013 (UTC)

if someone wants to revive the "Impact on Popular Culture" section which no longer exists, sure. It's a big "meh" to me. I'm not entirely sure that The Luminous Fish Effect is an homage to David Hahn's famous backyard reactor, though. Rob Chilson had a science fiction short story published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact magazine dealing with fish that took up fissile radionuclides from their environment to the extent that the nuclides caused fission chain reactions when the fish in question gathered in schools... which made them, according to Analog editor Stanley Schmidt, "fissile fish." It's an alternate hypothesis I wouldn't absolutely discard, given how the Big Bang Theory writing team can be scientifically literate when they just have to be. loupgarous (talk) 17:17, 27 August 2013 (UTC)

Daily Mail 2013 interview Suggestion[edit]

Some more recent material that could be a source for expanding the article: -=# Amos E Wolfe talk #=- 08:09, 4 June 2014 (UTC)

Thanks for the link. It's worth reading, even though it's wildly sensationalistic. Rwflammang (talk) 13:38, 5 June 2014 (UTC)

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What is "an undesignated seaman"?Royalcourtier (talk) 08:31, 4 April 2016 (UTC)

Personal Experience Inforamtion[edit]

Some years ago (either late 1990s or early 2000s) I saw a documentary about David Hahn. I didn't think much about it (other than it being very interesting that someone had done this). Last week (6/9/2016) this event just popped in to my head at a local Mensa meeting and we all talked about it. I was told that I was lying about it having happened but I remembered watching the film. In seraching for evidence about this occurrance - I found this Wikipedia article. Why do I bring this up? Because this Wikipedia article states that no film was ever made or released for viewing here in the United States. As I have said though - I watched a film, on TV (do not remember which channel or station) about David Hahn doing this. I have no idea how I would even start to find out which channel/station aired the film but I believe that the statement that a film was never aired in the United States is false.

Ah - my brain is mush today -> I was living in Houston, Texas at the time I saw the film. Don't know if that helps or not.

— Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:05, 14 June 2016 (UTC)

Sorry I forgot to log in before.

Markem (talk) 00:09, 14 June 2016 (UTC)

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