A 31-year-old Swedish man may be on his way to the pokey because the authorities don’t much like his hobby.
Richard Handl, of the delightfully named burg of Angelhome, is interested in nuclear physics. So he figured—why not?—that he’d split atoms in his kitchen.
For months, Handl set about building a nuclear reactor in his home. Nuclear materials he purchased over the intertubes—on eBay, or, of course, “from Germany.” Some, creatively, he plucked from common sources, such as the americium he teased out of household smoke detectors, or the trithium, one of the key components of hydrogen bombs, he discovered in keychains.
Like any good citizen of the intertubes era, he blogged about his journey, on a site called “Richard’s Reactor.” Proudly, he showed off there his uranium glass marble, the radium he retrieved from old clock-fingers.
Forthrightly, he defined his mission:
My project is to build a working nuclear reactor. Not to gain electricity, just for fun and to see if it’s possible to split atoms at home. I would be a breeder reactor, and my primary goals is to carry out two main reactions[.]
Faithfully, he chronicled even his failures—such as when he created a small meltdown on his stove (pictured below).
A meltdown on my cooker!!!
No, it not so dangerous. But I tried to cook Americium, Radium and Beryllium in 96% sulphuric-acid, to easier get them blended. But the whole thing exploded upp in the air…
Of cource I thrown away my pills at the left side, and I didn’t drink the juice-syryp in the right.
Like any intrepid researcher, Handl, following the meltdown, simply “cleaned up the mess on the cooker and then I bought some more radium and continued the experiment.”
At some point Handl thought maybe he’d notify Sweden’s Radiation Authority, to make sure that what he was doing was okay. The Authority contacted the police, who came out to Handl’s place, checked out his radium, americium, uranium, and whatnot, and arrested him for unauthorized possession of nuclear materials. He could potentially serve two years in prison.
“I have always been interested in physics and chemistry,” Handl said, adding he just wanted to “see if it’s possible to split atoms at home.”
Queried by the BBC as to whether what he was about might not be considered highly dangerous, Handl replied: “Yes, but I have a Geiger counter to measure the radiation and I have it under control.”
Now that he has encountered Johnny Law, Handl says that henceforth “I will stick to the theory.”
This sort of thing was inevitable. Humans are curious, and clever, and the information is out there: the Progressive, not so long ago, printed, based on then-publicly available information, a recipe for building an atomic bomb.
Not everybody is going to be content with confining nuclear-fiddling to governments, and officially sanctioned Science Men.
Handl’s own blog observes that he was not the first person to go nuclear at home—apparently some boy scout got there before him—and he certainly won’t be the last.
As Handl notes: Geiger counter. Good to have around.