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Duct Tape 302

CandyMan writes: "The incredible story of the 15-year-old kid who built a nuclear reactor in his mother's toolshed, using common household objects, aluminium foil and duct tape. Sample quote: 'When David's Geiger counter began picking up radiation five doors from his mom's house, he decided that he had "too much radioactive stuff in one place", and began to dissasemble the reactor'." Well, I tried to check this out and see if it was for real, and I found a much longer version of the same article which appears legit, if still rather unbelievable. If any of you irradiate yourselves, you didn't read about it here, okay?
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Duct Tape

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Just remeber that, all that's needed to create a nice *boom*. It's considered a "sub-munition", used to take out cities the size of Manhatten.

    Lots of articles on how to "aquire" the uranium, and refine it to plutonium. Besides, getting a hold of uranium is not as hard as you would think. You can order quantities of 10-20lbs of unrefined ore online, for around $3-4.50/lb.

    Make two 5lbs shells of plutonium, put a seperator between them. Remeber 10lbs can create critical mass, wrap with high yeild explosive ignite all at the same time. Big boom. :)

    Just remeber that while uranium isn't too toxic, plutonium is...nasty stuff it is. Ahh the wonders of university physics.

    I do not support nuclear weapons, or nuclear poliferation. Too bad we can't put the genie back in the bottle hmm?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2001 @10:02PM (#181104)
    Although I never normally post, I did notice that this thread was really plumbing the depths of stupidity and gullibility, even for Slashdot...

    So, in my attempt to explain this away:

    Americium Oxide was originally sold by the Atomic Energy Commision (now under responsibility of the Department of Energy) of the US for about US$1000 a GRAM. A gram is enough to supply 5,000 smoke detectors with Americium.

    Just think about how much fissionable material you need to run a reactor. A uranium fuel pellet is as big as a pencil eraser. Also, these are HEAVY elements, heavier than lead. So one would need a lot more than a gram of Americium, supposing one could collect 5,000 smoke detectors to get it.

    If you want to know more, here's the US government information on how to procure various elements:
    In particular, Americium 241:
    Here's the link to the sales staff at Los Alamos National Labs:
    http://pearl1.lanl.gov/isotopes/order_informatio n. html

    If you need more info on how much Americium is needed for a smoke detector, check out the Uranium Information Centre of Australia:

    Check out the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia to find out sheer quantities of fuel needed to fuel a reactor for a year:

    Now get your heads out of the clouds and get back to work.

  • Still in the navy. I just ICQed some friends, and apparently he is getting out sometime this summer.

    I think he plans on going to college when he gets out.
  • I was off at college when he was actually raided, so I don't know for sure, but I don't think they threatened him with jail time, as he cooperated with them from the beginning, and told them where he had obtained everything.

    I do know that he was extremely worried for a while that he would have to pay for the cleanup.
  • I'll ask him once the movie comes out - I remember hearing that there is one in the works.
  • I don't remember him ever making nitro-glycerine, but I know he used to make a lot of thermite. He lost his eyebrows a few times setting off large charges in the woods somewhere.

    He got the detectors from a surplus catalog - some place was selling lots of non-working electronics that had been stored out in the rain, and one of the items for sale was several cases of wrecked smoke detectors.
  • by Pathwalker ( 103 ) <hotgrits@yourpants.net> on Saturday June 02, 2001 @05:37PM (#181109) Homepage Journal
    I went to high school with him, and was in the same scout troop as him (Troop 371).
    We were in the same circle of (sometimes self proclaimed) weirdos who were all obsessive about one thing or another, and hung out together.

    I remember when he brought in a giger counter, and we checked the food in the east center caf to see if it was radioactive. We had a good laugh when we got a blip from the soft serve ice cream.

    Later, when he started carrying around radioactive material in his pockets at school, and showing me what looked like radiation burns, I tried to not hang out with him as much, and switched seats in Anthropology so that I wasn't right next to him.

    It was a weird time - I was at MSU when I got the paniced call from him saying that the EPA was currently raiding his house, and wanting to know what catalog he had ordered the smoke detectors from.

    The author who did the Harper's article was working on a book late last year - he asked me a few questions about Dave. I wonder when it will come out...

    If anyone has any questions about Dave, just reply to this, and I'll answer what I remember...
  • by dbarron ( 286 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @04:34PM (#181110)
    Maybe you also don't worry about having genital cancer later in your life either ? I don't know...but I think there just MIGHT be slightly safer methods of population control. Then again....I guess if that sounds like a good idea to you...go ahead. Survival of the fittest, I suppose ;)

  • Well now that we know where it is, we can consult Map-a-Blast! [vicinity.com]

  • >And on that site today, except for the small
    >square reserved for a monument, the University of >Chicago is building a new undergraduate dorm. Now
    >that seems a bit amusing.

    hey, we've already tried everything else to cut down on undergraduate pregnancy. If this works out, we'll use a similar method in the boy's gyms in high schools . . .


  • The first uncontrolled nuclear reaction ever (1942)...had to be stopped by a guy running up with an ax.

    No no, that was a controlled reaction. The first uncontrolled reaction was at the top of a tower in the middle of the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

    The second uncontrolled reaction was a few thousand feet over Hiroshima, Japan.


  • Other useful link:

    http://tis.eh.doe.gov/techstds/standard/standard .h t ml

    It's the Online Approved DOE Technical Standards -- including

    * Licensed Reactor Nuclear Safety Criteria Applicable to DOE Reactors,

    * DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory,


    * Criteria for Packaging and Storing Uranium-233-Bearing Materials

    Wonderful stuff!

  • You know, you can study a printout of the DeCSS code all you want, but no matter how hard you try, the code will not compile and assemble itself in front of you. You need to acquire a computer, type it into the computer, obtain an operating system, obtain compiler software, and run the compiler on the computer before you can use a system combining the software, an operating system, a computer, and a DVD drive.

    Yet the printout of the DeCSS source code is considered a "device" under current judicial rulings.

    Steven E. Ehrbar
  • But radioactive things don't glow!

    Uhhh, then why was radium used for luminous watch dials and such? And if I remember right, cesium-137 has a lovely luminous blue glow (not that you'd want to play with it). Not all radioisotopes emit visible light, but some certainly do.
  • According to Britannica [britannica.com] (quickest reference I could find):

    When concentrated, radium glows in the dark. Because of this property, it was once mixed with a paste of zinc sulfide to make a self-luminescent paint for watch, clock, and instrument dials. During the 1930s it was found, however, that exposure to radium posed a serious hazard to health: a number of the workers who routinely used the radium-containing luminescent paint developed anemia and, in some cases, bone cancer. The practice of employing radium in luminescent coatings was halted after the high toxicity of the material was recognized.
  • Unless it's 99.9% pure, you can't use it to make Nitroglycerin, or you make it like 10x as dangerous (as if it wasn't bad enough).

    A bit of the wrong heavy metal contamination makes nitroglycerin very, very sensitive.
  • Did a yahoo search for David Hahn, and pulled up this.


    (search for Hahn).

    Same person?
  • So . . . the kid needed $3,350. Let's say he worked a minimum wage job, and he cleared $5/hr,
    which seems like a fairly conservative assumption.

    3350/5 = 670 hours.
    assuming he worked 20 hrs. a week . . . .

    670/20 = 33.5 weeks, or about 8 months.

    That doesn't seem unreasonable to me. Other than the part about working at minimum wage that long.

    And, of course, he could have cleared a lot more dough mowing lawns or from tips as a waiter.
  • by jonbrewer ( 11894 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @09:22PM (#181131) Homepage
    While David may have attempted to build a breeder reactor, he certainly didn't succeed. Even if you don't get past the first page of the article you'll notice a synopsis: "When a teenager attempts to build a breeder reactor."

    What really tells are his own words:

    "Even though there was no critical pile, I know that some of the reactions that go on in a breeder reactor went on to a minute extent."(page 11 of the Harper's article)

    And he was talking about a device he built like this:

    "David took the highly radioactive radium and americium out of their respective lead casings and, after another round of filing and pulverizing, mixed those isotopes with beryllium and aluminum shavings, all of which he wrapped in aluminum foil. What were once the neutron sources for his guns became a makeshift "core" for his reactor. He surrounded this radioactive ball with a "blanket" composed of tiny foil-wrapped cubes of thorium ash and uranium powder, which were stacked in an alternating pattern with carbon cubes and tenuously held together with duct tape."

    This doesn't approach "building a nuclear reactor" by a long shot.
  • I wouldn't say I was trolling.. just posting an odd idea to see if anyone had anything interesting to say on the subject. Other than the poke at my bad spellin the posts have indeed been informative. I doubt I'd need a semi sized vehicle but I will agree I'd probably need something a lot bigger than my vague idea. :)

    My actual tinker project for this summer is an electric motorcycle that can be recycled in the field by a retractable solar panel. Someone from the solar car team mentioned people who've built models that worked well and that sounds awesome to me. Hehe I can handle solar panels much easier than radioactive materials. :)

    Any alternative powered vehicle is interesting to me though. :)
  • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @10:35PM (#181133) Homepage Journal
    I've been toying with the idea of making a nucleur powered car as a tinkering project. I'm fairly sure I know how to do most of the design and production but I'd be interested in any suggestions Dave might have on obtaining the needed nucleur material and not killing myself handling it. :)
  • There's a very interesting novel on a very similar theme to this. Dad's Nuke, by Marc Laidlaw [amazon.com]--a satire on suburbia describing a neighborhood arms race.

    Interestingly, Marc Laidlaw would later become a writer for another project with a nuclear theme--a little first-person shooter by the name of Half-Life [planethalflife.com]. (As a little in-joke, some of his books can be seen in one of the lockers in the locker room in the early part of the game.)

  • What about bathroom tiles on the back of a Jupiter-going spaceship with three anuses and three mouths and cool shades and stuff?
  • If you're going to seriously think about nuclear powered cars, I suggest looking up some of the historical data on the nuclear powered airplane project:

    I also recommend the novel "Steambird" by Hilbert Schenk: an alternate history in which this turkey actually flew.
  • The article appeared in Harper's November 1998 issue, No. 1782, Vol. 297; Pg. 59; ISSN: 0017-789X , if you care. phear m4h m4]) l00kup sk|11z!!
  • Yeah, but a lot of those people are trolls now.


  • by Kris Warkentin ( 15136 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @07:27AM (#181141) Homepage
    He never made a nuclear reactor....He was TRYING to make a nuclear reactor. Your argument may indicate why he would have failed but it doesn't mean that it didn't happen. That's like saying early attempts to build airplanes were hoaxes because, "that design was flawed and would never have flown"

    Jeez, all you have to do around here is spout a few "facts" (5000 units per gram blah blah blah) and you get put up to +5 informative.

    *sing* I'm a karma whore and I'm okay....
    I work all night and I post all day
  • The reasonable thing to conclude about this story is that David Hahn is a real person, who managed to make a radioactive mess, and probably successfully extracted some radioactive elements, but very much did not make a nuclear breeder reactor.

    One of the people mentioned in the story is David Minnaar, who works for the Michigan DEP. He's certainly a real person; see Antique crock turns out to be radioactive [detnews.com] and Michigan DEP site [state.mi.us] with his e-mail address (minnaard@state.mi.us) and phone number (517-335-8197).

    Another person mentioned is Donald Erb, mentioned on International Isotope Society Membership List [intl-isotope-soc.org], and can be reached at
    U.S. Department of Energy
    22404 Goshen School Road
    Gaithersburg , MD , 20882-9801
    Phone: (301) 253-5530
    Fax: (301) 903-5434

    So at the minimum they're real people, and can certainly easily confirm or deny the story or its details, unless they refuse to talk about it, which would be a bit silly.

    There was a long cross-posted thread in alt.folklore.urban, sci.physics, and sci.skeptic [google.com] at the beginning of last year about this, Some good posts:

    The existence of David Hahn is plausible; that he accomplished anything resembling a nuclear reactor isn't. It takes a lot of math and physics to build a safe nuclear reactor, but it only takes a pile of radioactive material to get radioactive readings. As extracting elements is pretty much the most basic task in chemistry, and it's all the guy had to do, I believe that he could have done it. Calling what he made a nuclear breeder reactor is pure journalistic hoo-hah (or more charitably, gross exaggeration)...actually, the journalist merely implies that's what Hahn did, by using the phrase "breeder reactor" over and over again. A good lesson in the difference between what's actually said and what's implied. He may have had a dangerous nuclear pile, but that's far from a genuine reactor.

    Remember, this is 19th century chemistry that he was doing, and had the advantage of extracting radioactive materials from already purified sources.


  • by mindstrm ( 20013 )
    Tritium has a half life of 12.5 years, and is a gas.
    It's used inside small fluorescent tubes, as it's a pure low-energy beta emitter. No radiation escapes the tube, end the beta (electron) emission causes the tube to fluoresce (like any other fluorescent light).

    My watch has tritium gas-lights on it. Sometimes, these are called Traser(tm) lights.

    I believe it's also the most expensive substance by weight known to man.

  • Is it commercially available? He said commercially available. Some elements (Californium, for example) are just plain not available.
  • This story is a complete load of BS. When I read the Nitric Acid bit I thought, "This kid can get the NRC to tell him how to build a reactor, he can extract thorium from mantles and he can pose as a "professor", but he can't find the ever elusvie Nitric Acid?" I'm not sure if I remember my 'Anarchist's Cookbook' very well (nor my Organic Chemistry), but I think to make Nitroglycerin it require glycerine and nitric acid.. could be wrong though.

    Two more things. I work with small amounts of radioactivity on a daily basis and I find it incredibly hard to believe the radium story. He was supposedly "driving by" a antiques store when he picked up the vial of radium paint with the geiger counter. C'mon. The ability to detect radiation is proportional to the inverse of the distance from the source squared. I can't imagine how hot that clock would have been if he could detect it in his car while driving by.

    And. With quotes like, "I'll pay any some [sic] of money..." it is not possible that he could have carried on a conversation by mail, posing as a teacher or a professor.

    Blech... this is pure crap!

  • Anyone else catch that his high school principal supposedly believed his girlfriend was using baloons to smuggle funky chemicals to him so he could continue his experiments?

    Do you buy this? I'm not sure if I do. Even if the principal was completely clueless about science, which he probably is or he'd be a real teacher rather than an administrator, I have a hard time believing that anyone with a triple digit IQ and a lick of common sense would fear that someone's girlfriend was using baloons to smuggle strange chemicals around. Is this the kind of person we should have running a school?

    Ultimately I do believe he was exactly that clueless. Until I'd read this story I'd almost forgotten just how clueless the adults around me seemed to be when I was younger. Their absolute ignorance of anything technical or scientific combined with the strange assumption that I was doing something dangerous made for some very bizzare behavior on their part. I'm sure that many others here know exactly what I mean. To me it was always highly annoying to be treated with awe or fear by someone older simply because I demonstrated the smallest modicum of understanding of something like how a television worked.

    The other possibility is that the principal was simply being an utter jerk. He wanted to show that he didn't need an excuse to be a jerk and so came up with the most outlandish and unsubstantiated "reason" he could think of. I've seen that happen a lot too. It would kind of explain why he's a principal and not a teacher.

    Lee Reynolds
  • You hardly need to be a genius to make nitro-glycerine. I won't go into the details in case some fool decides to try, but suffice it to say that most soup recipes are more complicated. I'm surprised if he really did make it without having an accident - it's extremely unstable. a friend of my family blew one of his hands off and severly disfigured his face.
  • Correct. You need a chunk of weapons grade plutonium about the size of a base ball to make a fission device, and while not so much, still a reasonable quantity to go critical. I remember seeing the "Fat Man & Little Boy" documentatry about the Manhatten project and how they had one criticality experiment go wrong and kill one of the scientists. They said that basically once you see the blue flash it's too late - you've already had sufficient radiation exposure to kill you.

    So the neighbors saw this kid's shed glowing? Hmmm.... good urban legend.
  • by Raetsel ( 34442 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @11:59PM (#181159)

    Sorry for the confusion, LionKimbro. I really should have been more specific. I should have said "lifetime allowable dosage of radiation for a person working in a US Navy nuclear specialty." I'm sure there's a "government recommended maximum civillian dosage," and it's set at a very harmless and generally un-reached number.

    Here's a little background on the Navy nuclear field:

    The enlisted and officer personnel that actually work on the naval reactor systems (ratings of MM, EM and ET, plus officer billets) go through a special school at Naval Weapons Station Charleston in South Carolina.

    • First, one is trained in their specific job duties. ("A School")

    • Second, you go through 'Power School' -- principles of nuclear physics, what makes these things work, how, and why they're dangerous.

      • While in Power School, you are scanned to determine exactly how much radiation you have absorbed thus far in your life. (Some call it "Hugging the Box.") From that, the Navy knows how much more exposure you can receive before you are no longer allowed near radioactive sources.

    • Third, you go to 'Prototype' where you get to play with a working reactor, just not on a working vessel. There are 3 of these in the US, 2 here at NWS Charleston, and 1 in Ballston Spa, NY.

    As far as exposure goes, I'm not going to get into the exact specifics & numbers. (I'm not sure exactly where 'common knowledge' stops and 'confidential information' starts.) Numbers don't matter in any case, as I don't have exposure readings for Petty Officer Hahn.

    The point is: The Navy has chosen a number for the amount of exposure you're allowed. David Hahn exceeded this number before he enlisted. Therefore the Navy will not allow him to work in a situation where he will receive artificial additional exposure. The Navy is not interested in medically retiring him and handing him a disability check because something turned cancerous, all because he went near a reactor... again.

    The Navy does understand the risks involved -- and they certainly minimize their exposure as much as they can, both to radiation risks and litigation risks!

    Petty Officer Hahn is quite famous here around NWS Charleston. Every Power School class hears about the 'Radioactive Boyscout.' Curious about what he's doing now? He's an 'airdale' -- he works on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

  • by Raetsel ( 34442 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @05:40PM (#181160)
    David Hahn is now in the US Navy. While the Navy would have liked him to be a nuclear certified machinist's mate/electrician's mate/electronics tech, he has already received more than his lifetime allowable dosage of radiation.


    So, just you remember that kids -- choices you make in your youth can limit your career options further down the road.

    I sure think he didn't want quite that result, though.

    His reaction to it is interesting. (To paraphrase Reader's Digest):

    • David is now in the Navy, where he reads about steroids, melanin, genetic codes, prototype reactors, amino acids, and criminal law. He explains "...I wanted to make a scratch in life." As far as his radiation exposure, "I've still got time." He goes on to venture that "I don't believe I took more than 5 years off my life."
    Quite the merit badge.
  • by revscat ( 35618 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @06:25PM (#181162) Journal

    Obviously he didn't face any jail time, but did the Feds give him any noise about persecuting him? I'm kind of surprised they didn't, what with their persistent spreading of FUD about weapons of mass destruction.

    - Rev.
  • I read this in Reader's Digest over a year ago. C'mon, this is old news.


  • "Yeah, somehow I don't see Harpers magazine being allowed to publish instructions to make dangerous radioactive devices!"

    In fact, it almost certainly would. Although the Supreme Court decided U.S. v Progressive in favor of the government, it lifted the injunction later.
  • It's actually harder than it looks to build a nuclear device. You can get some fairly detailed instructions (short of the actual neutron flow mathematics) from the Nuclear Weapons FAQ (http://www.scifig.com/milnet/nukeweap/Nfaq0.html) .

    The DoD conducted a trial in 1967 by getting 3 physics grads to design a device. They succeeded in less than a year!! Now, with the internet, a 15 year old can probably design one themselves.

    Basically, as mentioned before, the easy bit is finding the raw materials and refining them to weapons grade munitions. The difficult bits (in what I see as order of difficulty) are:

    i) Shaping the charge exactly right to form a perfectly spherical shock wave around the fissile material.
    ii) Shaping the material properly to implode spherically.
    iii) Doing all this in such a manner as not to arouse suspicion - you need some fairly specialised tools to accomplish it - a pocket knife and a home lathe probably aren't enough.

    As soon as you order the materials in a non-secure manner, the CIA are probably going to have your number on a 'watch' list. If it comes up a couple of times then expect a visit at some stage. Hell - I'm probably flagged from mentioning all this in a public forum.
  • I wonder whose reach I come under then as a legal alien? Probably the FBI/DOE until I leave the country. Maybe I'm ok because they'd have to (heaven forbid) cooperate with each other.
  • by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @05:45PM (#181170) Journal

    What is he doing now?

    Building warp drives?
  • If that was case, shouldn't it be called "hamster tape" instead?
  • > ... describing a neighborhood arms race. ...

    Hey, gimme an EMP device! That's ll nuke those pesky boom boxes going on all night at maximum volume, robbing you of an honest man's sleep. EMP's are far more practical than old fashioned methods such as water buckets, or manually going down to the basement to switch off their power supply!

  • $3350 is peanuts for a motivated teenager. My son raised about twice this amount by the time he was 16 to finance a year-long exchange trip to Germany during his junior year in high school. His job: walking dogs.
  • by SETY ( 46845 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @05:00PM (#181176)

    Half way down the page it says this story appeared in:

    November 1998 issue of Harpers Magazine.
    CBS "Morning News"
    CBS "Evening News" on October 14, 1998
    Reader's Digest March 1999
    The Sunday Times January 17, 1999.

    I looked in the Sunday times back-issue and couldn't find the article, maybe someone else can....

    CBC news archives seem to not go back farther than Dec 98.

  • "Any speech can be functional."

    You know, you can study your physics book all you want, but no matter how hard you try, a breeder reactor will not assemble itself in front of you. You need to obtain actual, and very very rare (and immediately physically dangerous) materials.

    Software is a peculiar sort of speech in that it can also be considered a "device" (I don't know who started that terminology). But a physics books (speech) and breeder reactor (device) do *NOT* overlap like software does (I think this is the point the poster was trying to get accross when he described a non-empty set containing DeCSS, but NOT a physics book).
  • To make an atomic weapon, you'd need a higher grade of fissile material. Americium and Thorium won't cut it. You need U-235 or Plutonium. The former is incredibly hard to separate from common Uranium (mostly U-238, which is only barely radioactive) while the latter is only made in reactors, and thus you'd have to buy it from your friendly local Soviet-salvage dealer....
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 )
    MacGyver would just find everything he needed conveniently lying around, then he'd reach into his pocket for his swiss army knife, not finding it he'd remember "ah darn, that's right, it's season three - no bombs, no knifes". Around then a million views switch over to watch The A-Team (who are co-incidentally blow torching together a tank).
  • Try this instead:

    "Oh my God! My son took apart the smoke detector, and, and, oh my God! I think he ate parts of it! Some parts are radioactive, right? Which ones? Which ones??!!?"

    ... and the person on the other end gladly tells which parts.

    - - - - -
  • Wrong. They describe an action which can activate a specific device's intended function, they do not work together with another device to produce a new behavior not envisioned by the other device's creator

    What is a padlock's intended function? To lock, and unlock when the right combination is applied. Wow, that's just what CSS does. Or are you claiming that CSS's creator didn't envision that CSS encoded movies would be descrambled?

    DeCSS is an implementation of the CSS unlocking algorithm. It operates as intended. Your argument is not clear.

    Regardless, your argument is a tar baby. I can use a newspaper to light a fire that burns down someone's house. You don't (can't) outlaw newspaper publishing because someone can use it to start a fire, whether intended by the publisher or not. Even if the newspaper contained a How-To on arson. The use of information is prohibitable, the distribution of information is not. Actions are illegal, not data. It's in the constitution.

    Like most information, combinations serve a purpose, but do not perform a function.

    Like all information, DeCSS does not perform a function. People who use it do. Padlocks don't unlock themselves, and neither do DVDs. All functional speech has an intention behind it. 'rm -rf /' is functional, but it only functions in a certain context--some unlawful, others not. In either case, somone (read: a legal entity) caused the function to occur. The use of information is prohibitable, the distribution of information is not.

    The constitution does not require fair use, only that IP restrictions be temporary.

    Wrong. The copyright clause is self-limiting in duration, but the first amendment is the reason fair use exists. The First Amendment is why copyrights are limited in scope (to distribution, public performance) as well as in time. The first amendment controls the copyright clause. You don't have to be a lawyer to know this stuff, but you should probably read about it before spouting off.

    I don't agree with banning DeCSS, but I don't like to blow it out of proportion or talk about it in unrelated stories. I certainly don't like weaselly claims that it's not primarily a device for decrypting DVDs.

    Well, it is bad etiquette to post offtopic commentary, but it wasn't really off topic to begin with. Your glib, imprecise response didn't help, though.

    I never said DeCSS isn't primarily for decrypting DVDs, I don't think anyone on this thread did. I am saying that all speech can be functional, and that calling such functional speech a device does not exempt it from first amendment protections (which is what the studios are attempting to do). Congress has the power to control distribution of physical devices--but speech is right out. Functional or not.

    The use of information is prohibitable, the distribution of information is not.

  • Any speech can be functional. Calling functional speech a device doesn't change that it is speech, and is therefore protected.

    DeCSS is as much as device as the launch codes for a nuclear missle, or the combo to my gym locker.

    In the right context they can perform a function, but they are speech nonetheless. If you want to prohibit the function they perform, make "speech-devices" illegal to use, not to distribute--and realize that making DeCSS illegal to use would lay bare the decimation of constitutionally required fair use that this ban on dissemination disguises.

    It's that easy. And that hard.
  • Yes, if you have the materials, U-235 bombs are easy to construct. However, you may find unrefined, or even energy-grade uranium in reactors or universities, but you will not find the required amount of weapons grade uranium easy to come by. Refining U235 is extremely difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

    Plutonium bombs are not as easy to make, and you are almost guaranteed to kill yourself while machining it unless you have pretty good safety equipment -- even a small filing of plutonium can kill you if taken internally.

    Both can be acheived by someone with enough money and expetise but they aren't "easy."
  • Yeah, somehow I don't see Harpers magazine being allowed to publish instructions to make dangerous radioactive devices!

    What do you mean? It's not like Harper's published anything really dangerous... like DeCSS [cmu.edu].

  • Google hasn't heard about it.

    Golf Manor, according to the article, is a subdivision of Commerce, MI, which does exist. It has postal codes 48382 and 48390, and appears to be a suburb of Detroit. Pinto Drive, also mentioned in the article, doesn't show up on Yahoo! maps, but this is hardly surprising, considering.

  • Damn, having never seen the name of this particular adesive product in written form I assumed it to be spelt "Duck Tape" and was designed for securing ducks whilst performing acts which would normally cause them to attempt rapid escape.

    And to further confuse the matter, the first time I saw it in print, when I bought some all those years ago, it was spelled Duck Tape: Duck-brand Duct Tape.

  • The Army used to make and stockpile so-called 'nuclear munitions', sub-Hiroshima class nuclear bombs that would fit nicely in a small suitcase.
  • Sorry, but you can find nitric acid at a hardware store less than a mile from the place named in the Harper's article.. This poor kid undoubtably had to go there for the nitrates needed to make it himself (in gardening, in a quart sized silver can), so why the hell didn't he walk four aisles down into plumbing and buy one of the red half-gallon bottles of drain cleaner?
  • Glycerine, and a nitrating bath of roughly 60/40 nitric/sulfuric. Plus a couple others, for sake of some idiot trying, that are omitted. The recipe in the Anarchist's Cookbook is rather, well, rather more likely to have you going up then walking away with a usable quantity.

    And yes, you can detect radium at a decent distance with a consumer Geiger tube. That didn't bother me so much.
  • Yes, you can. 'Liquid Fire' brand drain cleaner, available from a local company (based in Lansing, MI) at the ACO in Clinton Township nearest his house.

    I checked. I have a half gallon under the sink in the kitchen. Because, as well as being a good source of concentrated nitric acid, is also a very, very good drain cleaner.
  • Oh, and by the way, I think I know how nasty it is. I had to have my face reconstructed after a flask containing it and a petrolatum surfacant hyperboiled. I still have to deal with massive nerve damage, even though my beautiful girlfriend assures me that you can't tell I had to have my chin stretched to my forehead.
  • Yeah.. Half the soup recipes I've seen will explode as the nitrating bath does its magic.

    Me, I did it right, from a 1930's Department of War publication, and I still lost 30 square feet of carpet when my dry ice gave early..

    NOTE TO SLASHDOT: If you want to make explosives, start with something simple. Gunpowder will probably do what you need. If it won't, for God's sake don't go beyond that! It's too easy to social engineer nitrogel or purchase nitrocellulose at any gun shop.
  • No way.. Are you familiar with Project Urchin? A single neutron activator likelike that, as used in Little Boy, in a projectile Plutonium device? No critical margin, cuz if you ain't fried when you put it together you're safe..
  • Yes, I've seen it.. And the story is real. I live less then 50 miles from the scene, so to speak. It's real.

    And there are several designs that don't involve implosion of subcritical material to reach activation, nor the impolsive mirrors that design entails. That's right kiddies, no more adding 200kg of machined trinitrotoluene mirrors to your 10kg of wepons grade uranium!

    Fat Man, the first nuclear device? Using plutonium, in the stead of the low-grade uranium, is plausible to fit in a suitcase with a little know-how.
  • Read up. Orwell, as in Mr. 1984, publically decried it as giving too much to the Russians *before* the critical value of Project Urchin was known.

    I just thank deity they didn't know for certain till 1957, when the first Little Boy went live in Siberia.
  • Explain this to the Brownstone device. A 31lb nuclear munition the United States Department of Defense punished us with in the sixties. Expected yield was .7 Hiroshima devices, effective blast radius over three miles. Unfortunatly, thr mortar it was attached to had a range 1 mile less than that..

    Don't ask me about the nuclear anti-aircraft missiles with a range 3 miles less than blast..
  • Since he merely created a radiation hazard, we can all take comfort in the fact that even in the unlikely event that he will be loosed upon society after he is thrown in jailto be raped by an HIV infected ethnic gang.

    I'd put the odds of that scenario at 5% -- tops.

    And even if he did emerge from society's human resource management as some sort of Unabomber from Hell with Nothing Left to Live For, it is always possible to simply humiliate him for being one of those guys who are full-grown adults who haven't yet accepted their place in the world as "pay up you punk ass". These guys who are living in their "picked on" school-boy past are just such a joke. Why would anyone take them seriously when you can just put them in prison and rape them again and again and...

  • Parents just tune their kids out. Mom, can I build a nuclear reactor in the Garage? Oh sure... whatever... Mom can I build a death laser? Whatever... Mom can I engineer a recombinant virus that inserts tail genes into the general population? Mom, can I hack into NORAD?

    If people paid more (or any) attention to their kids, we'd have less problems like this. Amazing what a kid can do with a little ingenuity and a Jr Dr Evil lab kit.

  • THANK YOU! Everybody - please don't make inane comments about nuclear physics when you haven't got a clue of what you're talking about.

    To further clarify, the amount of Americium in a smoke detector is minute - thousandths of a gramme. If you swallowed the source of Americium found in smoke detectors, it probably wouldn't take a single year off your lifespan (don't do it though. Please).

  • However, according to the article he didn't use the radium directly. He used the Radium and berylium to create a neutron gun - after his americium and alluminum one proved too underpowered for his uses.

  • by Cheshire Cat ( 105171 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @06:33PM (#181243) Homepage
    Hi kids! Building a nuclear reactor might be all the rage amongst your friends, but really its yesterdays news. If you want to be "hip" with your peers, and maybe win the affection of that pretty girl in your class, why not build your own atomic bomb! [iamapsycho.com]

    Yes, once you've built your own atomic device, we at ACME Atomic Products promise no more being picked on!

  • You don't think it could possibly be the Harper's article LINKED IN THE STORY? [findarticles.com]


  • But tritium has a half-life of *minutes*.

    12.5 years, IIRC.
  • I am not a nuclear expert, but many space vehicles have had nuclear reactors in them which must have been small and not very massive.

    That's simply for generating electricity, not propulsion, and the EE's at NASA can design some very efficient circuits, I'm sure. To actually move the probes takes some very reactive materials, hydrazine and such.

    Further, in "Mars Direct" (I think that is what the book was called) the author talks about sending powerful reactors to Mars. He seems to know what he is talking about.

    ...a key difference between the original poster and that author.

    I mean, keep in mind that nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers are big, in part, because they need to be big! Likewise powerplants.

    A turbine big enough to power a car would have to be pretty big as well. I'm not sure how it would work out if you used the reactor to simply generate electricity for an electric motor.

  • Yup. Also used on watch faces. The most expensive commercially available substance in the world. Last time I bothered checking, it was 10 grand American per gram. That was 10 or 15 years ago.
  • kid: Mom!!! Billy has the bomb. I need to have the bomb too.

    mother: What kind of a delivery system does he have?

    kid: I don't know. But I know he has the bomb because he tested it last week and Smithtown mall is a crater now.

    mother: Well, when he has a verified intrasuburban ballistic missile capability I'll consider it.

    kid: But Mommmm!!!

    mother: No buts! Now get to bed.

  • I read about this a LONG time ago. Still, interesting story, and well worth another read to get the details back in my head. Hmmm, I wonder if this could be turned into some sort of homebrew infertility method, just irradiate your nuts, and you don't have to worry about your lil swimmers!

  • I fail to see how something more than a year old qualifies as "News for nerds".

    So, rather than debate the validity of this crap any further, could anyone explain the above interrogative statement to me?

  • by Darth Turbogeek ( 142348 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @07:58PM (#181272) Homepage
    He read a 1970's artice of Electronic's Australia that discussed how to build a home made nuke and the problems you would enocounter. One thing it made clear was how dangerous it was and how in the end itis just finding the right bits. The most dangerous part is smeltering the Uranium into 10lb hemispheres as Uranium does not like bening melted. It gives of fumes and likely to catch fire, or react.

    Now, if I remember rigt, it proposed a underground cellar filled with concrete, one hemisphere at the bottom of a shaft, the other at the top if the same shaft. A small explosive forces the sphere's together, which provides the now critical mass and if you've got everything right, a yeild of 25 kilotons.

    The point of the article was to show that yes, it is possible. But also the risks as well. You need not to understand the maths, just be careful understand what your doing.

    I think the article is in a cira 1979 Electronic Australia. Thence, although I doubt this story is more thanan urban legend, it is still quite possible to build a home nuke if your detirmined enough. Suitcase nukes are definantly not possible.

  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @04:56PM (#181273) Homepage Journal
    So let me get this straight. I can find all the information I need to build a nuclear reactor, written at a level a 15 year old boy scout can understand, and that's "OK". But DeCSS is BAD. We can't have that kind of dangerous code out there! We might copy movies.

    So once again: Irradiating 40,000 people is OK. Fair Use copies of DVDs are bad.

    And we wonder why the world thinks America is fucking nuts.
  • by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @05:06PM (#181276)
    ...does anyone else find it just slightly strange that his name is DAVID HAHN [msu.edu]!??

  • by Fat Lenny ( 150637 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @04:46PM (#181277) Homepage
    Social engineering, hazardous substances, explosions, radioactive guns, plus tin foil and duct tape. And people think The Lone Gunmen are 1337 h4x0rz...


  • I read this article a few years back in Reader's Digest. I haven't gotten around to reading the article this one's about, but from what i remember, the kid had earlier proven himself as a scientific genius by making nitro-glycerine at the age of 12 by modifying an old chemistry set. it appears that the way he created the nuclear reactor was that he went to a firehouse on a day when they were discarding old smoke detectors. he already knew that Americium was contained in smoke detectors and that it could be used to create the nuclear reactor. He simply stole a whole bunch of smoke detectors and extracted the element.
  • Just think about how much fissionable material you need to run a reactor. A uranium fuel pellet is as big as a pencil eraser. Also, these are HEAVY elements, heavier than lead. So one would need a lot more than a gram of Americium, supposing one could collect 5,000 smoke detectors to get it.

    No one said that he built a "reactor" (To wit: Wordnet: "2: (physics) any of several devices that maintain and control a nuclear reaction for the production of energy or artificial elements [syn: nuclear reactor]") but that he had in fact stimulated a nuclear reaction. It was not self-sustaining, nor externally sustained.

    As for the sources of fissionable (and convertable) material...

    David learned that a tiny amount of the radioactive isotope americium-241 could be found in smoke detectors. he contacted smoke-detector companies and claimed that he needed a large number for a school project. One company sold him about a hundred broken detectors for a dollar apiece.


    The mantle in gas lanterns, the small cloth pouch over the flame, is coated with a compound containing thorium-232. When bombarded with neutrons it produces uranium-233, which is fissionable. David bought thousands of lantern mantles from surplus stores and blowtorched them into a pile of ash.

    To isolate the thorium from the ash, he purchased $1000 worth of lithium batteries and cut them in half with wire cutters. He placed the lithium and thorium ash together in a ball of aluminum foil and heated the ball with a Bunsen burner. This purified the thorium to at least 9000 times the level found in nature, and up to 170 times the level that requires NRC licensing. But David's americium gun wasn't strong enough to transform thorium into uranium.


    It was slow going until one day, while driving through Clinton Township, he says he came across an old table clock in an antique shop. In the hack of the clock he discovered a vial of radium paint. He bought the clock for $10.

    (I can only assume by "hack of the clock" they mean "back of the clock - nice proofreading there)


    The NRC's Erb had told him that "nothing produces neutrons from alpha reactions as well as beryllium." David says he had a friend swipe a strip of beryllium from a chemistry lab, then placed it in front of the lead block that held the radium. His cute little americium gun was now a more powerful radium gun.


    David had located some pitchblende, an ore containing tiny amounts of uranium, and pulverized it with a hammer. He aimed the gun at the powder, hoping to produce at least some fissionable atoms. It didn't work. The neutron particles, the bullets in his gun, were moving too fast.

    To slow them down, he added a filter, then targeted his gun again. This time the uranium powder appeared to grow more radioactive by the day.

    Interesting that it doesn't say what the filter was made of. Anyone know what material you'd use?


  • Once you've got the reactor, why would you want to mess things up by adding a steam turbine? Just power the truck with the steam! Steam is a great power source, and was used for the first automobiles, until the explosive properties of refined petroleum could be exploited. Most of the water is NOT anywhere near the radioctive bits, it runs through a heat exchanger. No, the radioactive bits can be pretty small and well-contained. Lots of universities have little reactors.

    Still does turn out to be a pretty heavy unit, though, and even your fat ass isn't masive enough to justify that kind of power. Now, heavy rail, on the other hand...

    A modern nuke-powered train could be practical, with a little work.
  • You're still making electricity. I was thinking steam.

  • Drain cleaner is a strong base, not an acid.

    Nitric acid is nasty stuff and not suitable for cleaning pipes.

  • I looked that stuff up online and it seems to be sulfuric, not nitric acid. I'm still surprised that it's an acid product, never seen that kind of drain cleaner in my neck o' the woods. Must be damn hard on the pipes.
  • You overestimate the amount of mateial needed for criticallity. All you really need is a neutron source, fissile material and the proper geometry. When I was in Naval Nuclear Power School we studied some of the accidents which had occurred. My favorite was the janitor at the enrichment plant who used a wet mop to clean up a spill of what I think was uranium hexafloride. He noticed that his mop head got hot and emitted some steam and he didn't feel right. He died within the week. What got him was the water which acted as a moderator for the fast neutrons emitted by the uranium slowing them down to thermal energies. The U-235 enriched uranium hexaflouride was fissile and the geometry of the twisted mop head was sufficient to attain criticallity for a brief period of time. No explosion in this case just some heat and a sheet of hard radiation. Nuclear things that go boom do so because of obtaining super criticallity.
  • ...I don't think any 'norm' has to worry about the majority of us /. geeks reproducing.

  • by fantom_winter ( 194762 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @08:21AM (#181307)
    There is no way that the radioactive materiasl that this student put together could ever have created a sustained nuclear reaction. I read this article very carefully when it came out, and came to the conclusion that a gullible reporter was taken in. Sure, one can obtain some moderately radioactive materials, but that is one hellofa long way from fission. Don't believe everything you read.

    Actually, you are quite wrong, because the type of nuclear reactor he made was a subcritical reactor. A subcritical reactor does not need to be of critical mass in order to produce fission. Instead, it relies on the nuclear particles already being emmited from radioactive materials to sustain a low-level rate of fission.

    Fission does not require alot of energy at all. In fact, if you understand nuclear physics, you know that the macroscopic cross section for absorbtion in a thermal (low-energy) neutron is much higher than that of a fast (high-energy) neutron.

    Many colleges have subcritical reactors. You may want to read up on the concept.

  • This seems to be fiction invented by a writer who is well-educated in nuclear physics, and who is depending on the fact that his readers aren't.

    For example, this paragraph from the story cannot be right:

    "It was slow going until one day, driving through Clinton Township to visit his girlfriend, Heather, he noticed that his Geiger counter went wild as he passed Gloria's Resale Boutique/Antique. The proprietor, Gloria Genette, still recalls the day when she was called at home by a store employee who said that a polite young man was anxious to buy an old table clock with a tinted green dial but wondered if she'd come down in price."

    This doesn't make sense. Geiger counters are not very sensitive because they depend on the ability of an energetic particle or photon to ionize gas molecules. This takes a lot of energy.

    To detect the radiation on the street using a geiger counter, the radiation near where the source was stored would have to be so intense that the workers in the store would become sick.

    Read message #173 above, by Kierthos (Kierthos@aol.com):

    "And as I recall, the radioactive particles emitted by Uranium are alpha (okay, it's been a long time, so I'm guessing), which can be stopped by a stout pair of pants."

    That's true. Beta radiation (fast electrons) doesn't travel far either. Another kind of radiation emitted by radioactive substances is gamma rays. Gamma rays are photons more energetic than X-rays. Gamma rays can penetrate easily. However, consider that the article quote implies that the distance over which the radiation was detected was from inside the store to the street. I'm guessing that would be at least 6 meters, or 20 feet.

    Gamma radiation from a radioactive substance is omni-directional. The energy radiates the same way in all directions. As radiation spreads into a volume, its intensity is divided proportional to the square of the distance. This means that someone working in the store would be exposed to a far higher intensity of radiation than would be detectable in the street.

    Also, the amount of radium (radioactive material) in luminous clock dials was extremely small. Radium was, and is, extremely expensive, so there never would have been very much in one place. Radium-226, the most common isotope, decays to half its original intensity in 1600 years. So there would never have been a reason to include an extra sample of radium with a clock.

    Conclusion: This story is, at least partly, a hoax.
  • by iomud ( 241310 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @05:16PM (#181340) Homepage Journal
    Social engineering, hazardous substances, explosions, radioactive guns, plus tin foil and duct tape.

    That sounds more like the core plot of just about every other MacGyver episode, the only thing else you need is a bamboo hang glider.

  • by hcubic ( 312046 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @06:07PM (#181365) Homepage
    There is no way that the radioactive materiasl that this student put together could ever have created a sustained nuclear reaction. I read this article very carefully when it came out, and came to the conclusion that a gullible reporter was taken in. Sure, one can obtain some moderately radioactive materials, but that is one hellofa long way from fission. Don't believe everything you read. See http://www.umsl.edu/~chemist/books/halspicks/hal19 98.html#October
  • by cypher6_06 ( 315532 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @05:35PM (#181368)
    Proof once again, that duct-tape has over a million uses. Just avoid using as a condom.
  • The story... Chicago, at University of Chicago, a group of students creates a nuclear reactor on the football field. The first uncontrolled nuclear reaction ever (1942)...had to be stopped by a guy running up with an ax.

    The first nuclear reactor. [anl.gov] Oddly, it looks like a toolshed.

    History likes repeating itself. :)

    Here is a look at the early Chicago reactors. [anl.gov]
  • by Hungry Hungry Hippo! ( 453616 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @04:33PM (#181386)
    ...reports of 8-foot tall mutant carnivorous green bunnies have flooded the police dispatchers in a small town in Michigan. Authorities blame violent monster "B-Movies" for the outbreak, and urges pet owners to restrict the viewing habits of their 8-foot tall mutant carnivorous green bunnies.

    We now return to our regularly scheduled drivel.


  • by Looge Over All! ( 454290 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @04:32PM (#181389)
    Damn, having never seen the name of this particular adesive product in written form I assumed it to be spelt "Duck Tape" and was designed for securing ducks whilst performing acts which would normally cause them to attempt rapid escape.

    Boy do I feel stupid.
  • by ColGraff ( 454761 ) <maron1&mindspring,com> on Sunday June 03, 2001 @07:27AM (#181396) Homepage Journal
    First of all, what the heck would you do if the car got totalled? You'd contaminate dozens of miles of the Interstate, and even if you survived, you'd die an agonizing death from radiation poisoning or cancer.

    There are other problems as well. For example, do you intend to power your car just with the energy generated from radioactive decay? If so, I hate to break it to you, but there's not a whole lot to use. It's doubtful that you could use that power to move a car, expecially the large one you would need.

    In fact, the only way you could do this would be if you converted an 18-wheeler with trailer. Put a true fission reactor in the trailer, complete with boilers and cooling system, and run wires from the trailer to the truck itself, where you would have a large electric motor. Sinmply converting an old jalopy as a "tinkering project" would not work. Not to mention, for this nuclear-powered 18-wheeler, you'd need a commercial driver's licence.

    Of course, the fact that you'd essentiall have a whole 18-wheeler trailer filled with radioactive metals and contaminated water means a couple things. First, you would have to have thick lead wall all over the thing - how a top speed of 30mph sound. The fact you'd have a huge amount of power is irrelevent - the other problems involved with moving that much mass at that much speed (brakes, transmission, etc) are formidable. And frankly, I wouldn't want you driving fast in this behemoth anyway.

    Remember what I said about your entire trailer being filled with radioactive-contaminated water? Let me ask you this: How often does your car radiator spring a leak? Not often, true, but it has happened to you, hasn't it? In a nuclear power plant, there are hundreds of people checking every valve and in constant control. Your reactor will have one controller - yourself -and you will be driving while trying to control the reactor.

    If you want a bad$%# truck, get a SmarTruck with missile launchers and whatnot.
  • by m08593 ( 455349 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @07:06PM (#181397)
    The pioneers in any area can't just order equipment from Edmund Scientifics. They had to build everything themselves. Besides, kitchen and household items are a lot cheaper than commercial supplies, and that isn't lost on budget conscious labs.

    While you can't do everything on a budget, you generally don't need a lot of equipment in order to do science, even cutting edge science. Policymakers should remember that when they consider trying to restrict the availability of technology or bet that it won't proliferate. You may be able to track and restrict nuclear materials, with occasional problems, but you can't restrict biotech or computers.

    The situation is really not unlike software. You may have big companies going out and spending billions on "enterprise software", while nimble smaller players do a better job with open source.

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