The Radioactive Boyscout
The Radioactive Boyscout is a very well written and highly amusing book by Ken Silverstein, about an all-American teenager on a mission to get his boyscout science merit badge.
David Hahn, the protagonist of this extraordinary tale, doesn't have a great deal in common with his namesake Otto Hahn, co-discoverer of nuclear fission. David isn't a brilliant student on his way to a stellar career in the natural sciences but he does have a highly endearing but slightly dysfunctional passion for all things radioactive.
And so begins his outrageous quest to build a nuclear reactor... in his potting shed! Neither helped nor hindered by detailed knowledge on the subject matter, David shows nonetheless a truly remarkable tenacity when it comes to gathering nuclear materials from fairly common house hold materials. He gets hold of a job lot of water damaged smoke alarms, from which at his own peril he extracts the radioactive chemical element Americium, contained in very small amounts in the ionisation chamber of these devices. He obtains Thorium (somewhat similar to Uranium) from butane camping gas lanterns and Radium from old watches and clocks from an era when Radium-based paint was used to create light-in-the-dark dials. Ever armed with his trusted precision Geiger counter, David is constantly hunting for the radioactive components of his nuclear dream.
Frequently he poses as a researcher when writing to this or that institute and rarely does he not get an official reply.
David realises things start getting out of hand when his homemade pile, although far from critical has started to emanate gamma radiation which his Geiger counter (mounted in his car) starts picking up blocks away from his home and potting shed. Eventually the authorities get involved and the Hazmat smurf look-alikes make sure his pile gets stashed away in a state sanctioned nuclear waste repository. It's reckoned that David, whilst not having attained his dream, probably did create a few atoms of Plutonium in his radioactive concoction.
I saw David in action (after the events of course) in a couple documentaries where he always gets to showcase his impressive collection of radioactive materials. He continues to collect radioactive minerals to this day. David failed to obtain a degree in applied sciences and later enlisted in the Navy. He was allegedly told to keep away from the nuclear missile silos...
The book is a cracking good read and I highly recommend it. It's totally non-geeky and written for the nuclear layman.