Saturday, December 31, 2011

Science Saturday: The Radioactive Boy Scout

I'm taking a break from documentaries for this installment of Science Saturday.  Take a look, it's in a book!

The Radioactive Boy Scout started as a simple article for Harper's, but Silverstein decided to flesh it out into an entire book.   In the early 90s, David Hahn (the Boy Scout in question) attempted to build a nuclear reactor in his shed.  He managed to get pretty far, too.  Police stopped him in an unrelated inquiry into some tire thefts, and found a whole box of radioactive material in the trunk of his car.  Eventually this led them to the much larger cache of radioactive material in David's backyard science lab—so radioactive, in fact, that the EPA declared it a superfund site and carted everything off to a nuclear waste containment center.

The good: The Radioactive Boy Scout is an incredibly quick and easy read. Silverstein goes into both the human interest aspect and the science aspect.

The bad: The anti-nuclear editorializing gets kind of old.  Nuclear energy isn't as dangerous or as awful as some people make it out to be.

One interesting fact: After its initial discovery (and before people knew that radiation was bad for you), people used radium for all kinds of novelty things, mostly glow-in-the-dark clock and watch faces.  It was even marketed as a snake oil type cure-all pill for years.

Would recommend?  Sure, from the library or a friend.  It's sort of  a "once and it's done" type of read.  Still interesting, nonetheless.

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