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  • Radioactive Japes September 28, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    Beachcombing’s recent reading about secret weapons from the Second World War and cobblers about ancient nuclear wars has got him thinking. He should really, twenty years ago, have put together a file on radioactive folly in human history. But, in the absence of this file, he hopes that reader’s will be able to provide some good radioactive stories and make up for lost time. And, as a starting point, he has decided to share a couple of gems that have come his way, one of which he discovered thanks to a friend of the blog, Ricardo R.

    The remarkable story that Ricardo uncovered was about a boy scout, David Hahn who in 1995 set off a radiation scare near Detroit. David had ‘attempted to build a nuclear reactor in his mother’s shed following a Boy Scout merit-badge project’! Up to forty thousand people may have been put at risk by David’s scout project.

    Beach will not go into too many details here because Ricardo’s source over at dangerous laboratories is beautifully written. But let the record show that DH, aged 14, bought 1000 dollars worth of Lithium batteries, chipped radium from clocks in dump yards and – Beach’s favourite bit – entered into correspondence with the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, pretending to be a physics teacher!

    The kid had heart and talent.  If the Federal government has two brain cells to rub together DH will presently be in a bunker in New Mexico earning good money protecting citizens from dirty bombs.

    Even more inspiring than DH’s story is the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Lab. This may sound like a top secret government instillation, perhaps next door to the one in which David works for the common good. But no it was, rather, a toy marketed in the early 1950s.

    Luckily for the tiny tots back then this was an expensive ‘game’. It cost more, in 1950s money, than a personal computer today. But who was going to complain? There was a geiger counter, three batteries, an electroscope, a comic book on how the atom was split and, wait for it, alpha particles, beta particles, gamma particles, and four uranium samples…

    Mother of God! Beachcombing has not seen a ‘live’ example, but presumably the designers warned children not to put this stuff in their mouths.

    The most dangerous toy ever made? Beachcombing fully expects to be contradicted. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    8 Oct 2011: Phil P writes in with this useful supplement on commonly used radioactive items. Thanks Phil!