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If you can’t stand the heat, don’t build a nuclear reactor in your kitchen


Posted on behalf of George Wigmore.

While many harbour dreams of splitting the atom, very few follow through on their fantasies. But Richard Handl, the Swedish man arrested after trying to split atoms in his kitchen, is a little different.

Handl had been trying for several months to set up a nuclear reaction in his kitchen, keeping a blog about his experiments, and even describing how he created a small meltdown on his kitchen stove (right). Yet only much later did Handl even question the legality of his experiments, prompting him to ask Sweden’s Radiation Authority for advice. They responded by sending the police.

Found with the radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium in his apartment in southern Sweden when he was arrested, according to The Daily Telegraph, Handl had “always been interested in physics and chemistry”.

But Handl is not the first to try such audacious experiments. In 1995, David Hahn, nicknamed the ‘Radioactive Boy Scout’, was a teenager living with his mum and her boyfriend at the weekends in Golf Manor, a small town outside of Detroit. But Hahn had an interesting hobby, as the weekends were spent attempting to build a fast breeder reactor in his mother’s potting shed in order to earn a Boy Scout badge. Fearing for the safely of the area’s 40,000 residents, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a cleanup. Hahn’s story is recounted in a 2004 book by Ken Silverman, called The Radioactive Boy Scout.

Having joined, and later left the Navy, in 2007 Hahn returned to his old habits, subsequently being arrested and charged for stealing smoke detectors. His aim? To experiment with the small amount of radioactive materials contained inside. When arrested, Hahn’s face was covered with open sores, possibly from exposure to radioactive materials.

Like Handl, Hahn only realised later that he could be putting himself and others in danger. But at least Handl now acknowledges the risks, “From now on, I will stick to the theory,” he said in the Telegraph. If only both had had that attitude from the outset.

Image courtesy of Richard Handl


  1. Report this comment

    Hans Gruber said:

    Although,it seems foolish or crazed at first glance, these amateur experimenters probably are doing as well as 18th century professionals who originated research into the field. Knowledge is not granted by a diploma or by attending a building or school, but by experimentation, and research. But, let us try experiments with safety, and common sense -first!

  2. Report this comment

    Pradeep Kumar Garg said:

    Throughout history, all new science/technology has been produced by such ‘mad cracks’ who ignored personal safety & even social restrictions. Every new experiment has unknown danger as well as potential. These two were just following that tradition without which nothing new would have been or can be discovered. ‘Safe Research’ produces only some refinment of existing one, never fundamentally new one.

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