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My kids recently came across the story of David Hahn, the young man who tried to build a nuclear reactor in his parents' backyard shed when he was 17, causing the EPA to designate the shed a Superfund Site.

There's a lot unusual about his story, but the detail that really grabbed their attention was this one:

Hahn attained Eagle Scout rank shortly after his lab was dismantled.

We know a few Eagle Scouts personally, so we know that achieving that rank requires a major service project. That seems like quite an accomplishment for someone who was at the time presumably quite busy dealing with the Police, the FBI, and the EPA.

So the burning question here is what David Hahn's Eagle Scout Service Project could possibly have been?

There's a good article in Harpers* from Ken Silverstein about Hahn that does include this hint:

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving Day that Dave Minnaar, a DPH radiological expert, finally interviewed David. David told Minnaar that he had been trying to make thorium in a form he could use to produce energy and that he hoped “his successes would help him earn his Eagle Scout status.

So it does look like he had plans to use this research as his Service Project. However, this later passage implies his nuclear experiments were in fact unrelated ("extracurricular") to his Eagle Scout Service Project:

In a final indignity, some area scout leaders attempted (and failed) to deny David his Eagle Scout status, saying that his extracurricular merit-badge activities had endangered the community.

That actually seems a pretty fair point. In fact, it seems tough to believe that anyone would have been granted Eagle Scout for a project that resulted in the creation of a Superfund Site.

Silverstein wrote a full book about this story, The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor. I don't currently have access to it, but it seems like the answer may be in there. It also seems possible that the Boy Scouts themselves keep records of Eagle Scout Service Projects, since forms have to be filled out and submitted to the organization, but I don't know how one would get access to those archives, if they exist.


* - Soft paywall

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The service aspect of the Eagle Scout badge can be found on page 146 of the abovementioned book, The radioactive boy scout : the true story of a boy and his backyard nuclear reactor , visible at archive.org. It was to be met by

designing a patio and pathway for the public library.

It is mentioned again of page 186,

David had still not completed the patio for the public library, the final requirement for Eagle Scout, and his eighteenth birthday—the deadline to complete all Eagle Scout requirements—was now less than two months away...In late September, with just a month to spare, David poured the final section...With the patio built, David sent a formal request for Eagle status to scouting’s national board of directors.

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    Seems like he needed to both design and build.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 17 at 21:09
  • 3
    From the next page, it appears he had ambitions to "go down in history", and it looks like he sort of managed that at least.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 17 at 21:43

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