Swede cuffed for cooking nuclear reactor on kitchen stovetop
Add radioactive smoke detector innards. Stir
A Swedish man was arrested and briefly detained for attempting to build a nuclear reactor in his kitchen.
"I've always been interested in nuclear physics and particle physics," the unnamed 31-year-old told the Helsingborgs Dagblad (Google Translate). "I have read many books about it and wanted to see if it worked. I just thought of it as an experiment."
Stovetop nuke research (source: Helsingborgs Dagblad)
That experiment had involved radioactive materials taken from smoke detectors – presumably americium-241 – and other radioactive substances he had bought from a foreign source.
He also acquired a Geiger counter from the US. His expenses ran in the neighborhood of 5,000 to 6,000 kr ($780 to $940).
The amateur nuclear engineer wasn't secretive about his efforts. He had posted about the project on the internet, including an article entitled "How to build a nuclear reactor" in which he noted that it was "not that difficult" (inte är så svårt).
His run-in with the law came as a result of that openness. A couple of weeks ago, according to the HD, he wrote to the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten) and asked if it was legal to build a home nuclear reactor.
The nuke authority told him that they'd drop by his Ängelholm apartment to check on radiation levels – and when they did, they brought the police with them. The constables arrested the would-be reactor maker, brought him in for questioning, then released him after his cooperative debriefing.
He hadn't planned on using the reactor to generate electricity, which he said would have been too difficult, seeing as how he'd have needed to build a turbine and a generator.
But he says his experimentation has ended for now. "They took all my stuff", he told the HD. "Now I keep it at the theoretical level." ®
This home-reactor escapade is similar to the adventures of David Hahn, whose efforts were immortalized in a 2005 book entitled The Radioactive Boy Scout. However, although Hahn's first DIY reactor dreams were overturned in 1995, he was arrested in 2007 for stealing 16 smoke detectors. At age 31.
Read the book
David Hahn also got some thorium and radium, isolated from stuff from flea market. I presume it was similar for this guy.
The Giants on whose shoulders present day science stands on were very much alike this guy - I'd say they should find a university for him and let him do some proper science.
Re: Isomer is not the same as Isotope
The AC who had a problem with the term "isomer" being used in a nuclear context needs to do some research of his own. The term isn't restricted to its meaning in Chemistry. Try looking up "Nuclear Isomer" in Wikipedia.
The reason that Americium is used in domestic smoke detectors is that only a trivial and non-dangerous amount is needed. You're not going to get close to building a reactor with what you can scavenge from a warehouse full of detectors.
Practically, you'd need a roomful of ultra-pure Uranium and graphite before you could even think of getting a chain reaction going. Maybe a bit less if you managed to get some beryllium and didn't mind poisoning yourself with it.
Bottom line, there is zero risk of any amateur getting a chain reaction going in his home. But as with all things nuclear, that doesn't stop people worrying (including those with authority) and being wound up by the media.
Undeterred by the approach being impossible? Not being transformed into a quivering wreck of fear by the possibility making the house sarcophagus-ready? Unafraid of spicing up the ramen with splattered Americium?
A budding Black Mesa whitecoat, I say.