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This fall, the “Radioactive Boy Scout” died at age 39 via Ars Technica

At 17, David Hahn corresponded with a top NRC official, who believed he was a teacher.

David Charles Hahn, who gained some notoriety in 1994 for attempting to build a homemade breeder nuclear reactor for a Boy Scout project in his mom’s Michigan backyard shed, has died at the age of 39. He passed away on September 27, but his death did not draw much media attention until Monday.

Breeder reactors are a type of nuclear reactor that generate more fissile material than they consume. They have been researched extensively for decades, and a number have been built, but the approach has largely been abandoned.

Hahn’s travails were most notably chronicled in a 1998 article in Harper’s, which described his story in detail. (That article was later expanded into a book, The Radioactive Boy Scout.)

At the age of 17, Hahn wrote to numerous nuclear industry entities, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), posing as a high school science teacher. The Harper’s article goes into some detail on his efforts.


It took nearly a year from Hahn’s arrest until the backyard shed was dismantled and cleaned up as a Superfund site. Hahn later served four years in the United States Navy, including service aboard the USSEnterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. He also briefly served in the United States Marine Corps and then returned back to his home state.

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