The DIY Nuclear Reactor

“Wednesday, I was arrested and sent to jail,” is what your blog might say if you decide to try and duplicate this project.  You may, however, be fortunate to be still writing your blog, as ATTEMPTING TO BUILD YOUR OWN REACTOR can be quite dangerous. That’s what [Richard] did using household items such as clock fingers for Radium, and smoke detectors for Americium. After the radioactive elements were separated from their household “containers” and melted down, they created a small explosion on his stove.

This attempted experiment is based on one that was done by [David Hahn], AKA, “The Nuclear Boyscout”, in order to obtain his nuclear energy badge.  For what it’s worth, [David] did attain the rank of Eagle Scout, however, he turned his parent’s house into a Superfund EPA cleanup site in the process.

The video after the break describes the process of making a reactor from household materials. This video may be entertaining, but duplicating it is not recommended (and would be somewhat expensive).

86 thoughts on “The DIY Nuclear Reactor

    1. That’s what I was thinking. I watched the vid expecting him to plug tubes up to a generator and in the end he’s like “now you can make plutonium!”
      …. oh gee, that’s a useful project

    2. Who needs Plutonium? I have my Mr. Fusion Home Generator bought in 2015! My time machine is a Mini van, however. That and the Hover-car upgrade was unavailable for my brand. Pity. :(
      I did go back in time and buy some of those thorium Lantern bags for anyone interested.

      A Seminar on Time Travel will be held Two Weeks ago.

    3. You do not need to heat water and you don’t need to use plutonium you could use americium 241 it can be bought in most hardware stores and is complex legal in most countries except china

  1. The device only counts as a nuclear reactor when actual fission was accomplished (i.e. went over the criticality limit). Fortunately for him, that did not happen. Otherwise, he’d be in hospital with only a few days to live, maybe less if he is fortunate.

    1. So to be clear, you’re saying that *any* fission, no matter how small or how well his preparations were, would give him a fatal dose of radiation, yes?

      In other words, you think that fission radiation is a binary event. It either doesn’t work, or results in a “demon core” type of accident.

      I’d be interested to hear your opinions on other things, such as current events or who is a good candidate to vote for.

      1. Sounds exactly like American poltics. 2 choices only differentiated by their extremes and polarizing issues, Gun Control and Healthcare, while the rest of the world looks on in amazement as people argue which is better, far right or far right!

        As for this, we are absorbing radiation all the time. Standing next to one of these for a little bit is probably no worse than getting on a plane.

        Remember he got all this stuff in easily available stuff, he didn’t have to go and scrape anything from the surface of the sun.

      2. criticality is an often-misused or misunderstood word.

        every operational nuclear reactor is in a critical state, where there is an equal number of neutrons creating reactions as there are being released.

        “meltdown”, cherynobyl, and the demonsphere are all examples of SUPERcriticality, where the reaction ramps up within millisecondsa at an exponential rate (ie: if 1.05 neutron reactions are created per neutron absorbed, at millions of reactions a second, your reactor is 1000s of times over-power in a devastatingly small period of time)

        SUBcritical is when its less than 1:1, and the reactor will fizzle down and eventually come to a halt because it cannot sustain itself

  2. For some strange reason I want to produce a decent amount of Carbon 14 for a more powerful beta light. . . Need to look up some cross-sectional numbers to see if its possible to produce with an americium neutron gun …

    Even if it were not used as a light it could be used as a battery!

  3. Hah, I bet the guys at 4hv and are getting so much new posts like “how do i make dis reactor 4 ten dollars?” and stuff like that. Poor saps :P

    You can also make a harnsworth farnsworth reactor and use it as a neutron source, it is much more controlled and can generate a lot more than this, though it is much more expensive and arguably more complicated.

      1. I did that too the other day. It would be awesome if they’d switch “report comment” and “reply” so that “reply” is in the lower-right corner, as it is on all Disqus sites and lots of non-Disqus sites too.

  4. At least part of this won’t work as advertised. While he specifically says that OLD lantern mantles had thorium, he’s using new lantern mantles which don’t have any.

    (cue cheesy video voice) For a better source of thorium, find an old bomarc missile. There are still a few on display here and there, and there are probably thousands in a warehouse somewhere. The frame of the missile was made of mag-thor which is an alloy of magnesium and thorium. The alloy should be soluble in acids, leaving magnesium and thorium salts, as well as lots of hydrogen. Separate the magnesium salts from the thorium salts by fractional crystallization, and there you have it… (diiiiing)

  5. For anyone interested, I have seen videos on youtube showing transmutation of elements using a Am/Be neutron source.

    It’s not that hard to build a nuclear reactor at home. All you need is a neutron source, a moderator and an element to be radiated by the neutrons. It will be very low flux, but it will transmute elements.

    Found the video:

    It seems to be more difficult getting the equipment to measure the resulting nuclides than the actual ingredients for the experiment itself.

  6. It’s the “radioactive boyscout”, and you may want to step up your warning from “not recommended” to “don’t do it, you ”

    Anybody who knows anything about the Radioactive boyscout knows the number 1 lesson from this story is “don’t do it”. The person who made this sounds like somebody who read the 1 paragraph summary of “hurr hurr, you can get radioactive stuff from smoke alarms” and just decided to go jump right in.

  7. thank god the guy prolly whont be able to have children anymore

    puttering in youre shop inventing stuff and finding other uses for items is fun but i draw the line at radioactive stuff and frown at explosives as they not only dangerous to the person that tinkers with it but the people around him as whell

    1. Why do you draw a line? The world wouldn’t be anywhere near where it is today if people suddenly drew a line when they hear about someone doing something dangerous.

      You’re glad he’s pulled himself out of the gene pool, do you say the same about Marie Curie?

  8. lol, I got a response to my comment on YouTube:
    “atomic bombs are nuclear reactors, too (without producing electricity)
    only thing they do is unleaching energy in form of (termal)radiation, which then can be used to wipe out cities or heat up water (like in steam engines) which then brings turbines to produce energy by circulating…
    this reactor is indeed to weak to do any of the above, but should you succede in creating pure plutonium (about 99% of Plutonium-239) and about enough to achive the critical mass (min 4.49 kg)…. “

  9. You guys should look up “Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys” or “The Wet Monkey Theory” before you condemn this as stupid, dangerous, and not to be done.

    Seriously, if we chase everyone away from nuclear study at a young age through fear, we’ll be without nuclear scientists in a generation or two. The same thing is also happening in chemistry. Have you seen how nerfed chemistry sets have gotten in the past few decades?

    1. If their numbers do shrink considerably, it’s far more likely that it will be due to the runaway costs of higher education than to the fact that Little Johnny’s chemistry set doesn’t come with a fist-sized chunk of polonium.

      Some kids want to be doctors. Nobody in their right mind would encourage one to perform amateur surgery, and guess what, there are still lots of doctors.

      1. I disagree in a few ways with what you’re saying.

        Higher education is not needed for innovation. Yes, it can help, but if little Johnny is already putting his polonium in a cloud chamber when he’s 10, he’s gonna be at one hell of an advantage over students who didn’t encounter nuclear physics until their college professor does the same for them from behind 3 feet of leaded glass (or just shows a video, given current education funding).

        Also, most doctors are little more than plumbers. Yes, humans are more complicated than the kitchen sink, but about the same amount of innovation happens on the front lines when fixing either.

        Your analogy goes too far off the scale. Not giving little Johnny ANY isotopes all the while telling him he will die, HORRIBLY, if he ever sees any radiation is not the same as saying “Hey Johnny, let’s hold off on the breeder reactor until you’re old enough to drive”. Surgery is not the basics of being a doctor, fixing people is. Fists of polonium is not the basics of being a nuclear physicist.

        We don’t tell children “Don’t touch that stethoscope! It has HEALING coming out of it! It’ll kill you and everyone you love! Here, play with this adhesive bandage with the adhesive taken off” That’s the sort of paranoia I see when I look at popular opinion of nuclear science (and chemistry).

  10. Al Qaeda collect smoke alarm and old clocks now.
    a dirty bom is easy to make now.

    this is certainly not hack it at this time is teroristme
    and very dangerous and I suggest you not to do

    1. The amount of americium in smoke detectors is extremely minute. It would be far more effective to pull radioactive cobalt from old dental x-ray machines in scrapyards. This isn’t terrorism, it doesn’t even come close.

  11. David Hahn didn’t build the reactor to get his Atomic Energy badge – he got the badge, then kept going. It’d be a bit irresponsible of the boyscouts if this were a requirement for the badge.

    1. Actually, the nuclear power badge isn’t required at all. However, a certain number of badges is required, and he thought this one would have been interesting. It doesn’t even require actually using radioactive materials, just designing something would do.

  12. Something smells strangly like bullsh1t
    We looked at a very similar story in our nuclear reactor engineering module for my degree.
    The bigest problem is that smoke detectors dont actually contain any radioactive material. They use heat sensors and IR beams to detect smoke particles and heat from fires.
    Also the number of clocks and mantles you would need would, more than likely, work out more expensive than just buying small amounts of radioactive material from a chemical suppliers.

    1. Way back when (and today, in some countries) radioactive smoke detectors are/were the norm. They tend to discriminate better, and produce less false alarms due to steam in, for example, kitchen settings.

      I actually went to the trouble of taking one along from the US back in ’91 to hang in my kitchen, since even the temperature-based fire detector I had in there would occasionally trip, especially when I opened the oven after running it on self-clean.

    2. Go to walmart in any state in the US. Just last month I bought 4 ionization types. Americium 241 has about 2 cm range at stp. Very few low energy gammas. Id get more radiation going for a walk outside then sleeping with smoke detectors on my pillow.

    3. “The bigest problem is that smoke detectors dont actually contain any radioactive material. ”

      No, the biggest problem is your complete wrongness. Another worthless degree, the plan is working perfectly!

  13. Just some thoughts:
    1) Unfortunately it was not a critical reactor. So technically it was not a reactor at all, but “natural decay in a jar”.

    2)If it would have been critical, you would have had the most unstable device ever. Due to the small delayed neutron fraction of Am, and the virtual absence of a Doppler effect.

    3) Any reactor capable of reaching criticality, is able to run at an arbitrary power level (cooling and desintegration issues aside). If he would have managed to reach criticality with this configuration, he would have had neutron flash flash and have died.
    4) Am is highly toxic, as are all transuranes, playing with them isn’t a nuclear risk as much as a radiotoxical one.

    So to summarize: this guy did not build a reactor, and the challenge is still open for someone else!

  14. Please wake me when somebody builds a DIY RTG out of one of these piles and a handful of peltiers.

    Seriously, though… Over here in Colorado (specifically, the old Ft. St. Vrain site), there are pools of spent fuel rods that sit at about 40 C (104 F). One would think that most of the year one could stick some peltiers in the pool and air-cool the other side and generate some useful electricity.

  15. You misunderstand – I realise that the Nuclear Energy badge isn’t required. I was saying that it would be irresponsible if building your own reactor was a requirement for getting the Nuclear Energy badge, which is what the post implies.

  16. Poor parenting, teachers sleepwalking through their days. At least he tried to learn , it was 1994. Today he would have joined a gang and died early or gotten shot by police while shooting people. Nothing really changes much, stupid parents produce stupid kids.

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