Book-review - The Radioactive Boy Scout

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Richard Hull
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Book-review - The Radioactive Boy Scout

Post by Richard Hull » Mon Apr 19, 2004 5:13 pm

I have received and read Ken Silverstein's "The Radioactive Boy Scout". The book is actually just the original article puplished in "Harpers" with a lot of fluff piled in and amongst the story.

Basically, it is a "feel bad story of the nuclear age" and a "scare the bejeebers outta' you" thriller. The author did well as an author but poorly as a tranferer of facts regarding nuclear processes.

As the book is a thrilling story of a boy reacting to the hype of the nuclear age, the science is not all that important in a teaching sense, but it leaves most of the great un-washed masses just as frightened about radiation as when they came and serves to re-inforce old irrational fears.

The author really has a thing against the boy scouts as he devotes about 4 pages to how he feels the boy scouts are political in nature and just a way of making boys into little nazis. Maybe he couldn't get in as a kid or somethng. All of this to show how the radioactive boy scout was going in a wrong direction.

Name me one normal boy who doesn't push the envelope rather constantly. Going off in wrong directions helps build character due to numerous crash and burns with the required recovery plan to re-stabilize.

The kid in this story is positioned as a really wierd human being on one hand by the author while being hailed as a free spirit on the other. Silverstein never connects with the fabric of wonder locked in the breast of the experimenter, instead he sees an experimenter out of control.

One can't expect a person who writes for a living to understand the experimental imperative or the siren's song associated with it.

His history of the nuclear age varies from OK to just totally wrong. A really big error was in his telling of the Charley Steen story during the Uranium Boom.

1. Steen's big discovery came at Yellow Cat Wash.....
WRONG! He discovered the Mi Vida near the Big Indian just south west of the Lisbon valley. Charley LIVED at Yellow Cat wash in a trailer and one room shack near Cisco.
2. The tailings at Steens mine remain a problem to this day and the cleanup near the Colorado River is to be a real chore.
Wrong AGAIN..... The tailings are at the MILL on the Colorado River near Moab, over 40 miles away from the mine where there are NO tailings.

Not a particularly big deal, but it shows that precision reporting is not the order of the day here. Instead, the Fluff was just slathered on to bulk up the tale into book size.

Inspite of this, the book is worth having as it gives a bit more insight into David Hahn's personna and more details about the entire incident that could not be shoehorned into a short article.

I would recommend the book only as an interesting read in the area of radioactivity in the public domain.

It can be had from for about 16 dollars. This is about 6 bucks off the cover price.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: Book-review - The Radioactive Boy Scout

Post by pkuiper » Thu Apr 22, 2004 11:54 am

I just watched the documentary film (GBP 50 - I ordered it for the

In it, you see a lot of the boy scout, now in his twenties. The film is not too
inaccurate and it is not really alarmist, but of course it does nothing to
downplay the dangers. That is fine. After all, the kid had taken apart about
300 smoke detectors, collected radium from the dials of lots of clocks. Oddly,
the safety guy that was interviewed seemed most concerned about thorium
-232 (the natural isotope).

The film also said that in 1999 students in Chicago had been inspired by this
story, and produced trace amounts of plutonium. Does anybody know more
about that?

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Brian McDermott
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Re: Book-review - The Radioactive Boy Scout

Post by Brian McDermott » Thu Apr 22, 2004 1:14 pm

Yes. One of the students in chicago was Fred M. Niell, who built the "breeder reactor" as part of a college scavenger hunt. The man is now a physicist at fermilab. He is probably best known for the webpage on homebuilt particle accelerators.

His website is and he has a link to the newspaper article which describes the scavenger hunt. The reactor is only mentioned briefly, and no specific details were given as to its construction.

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Re: Book-review - The Radioactive Boy Scout

Post by 3l » Thu Apr 22, 2004 3:30 pm

Hi Brian:

Making a nanogram of plute is almost trivial if ya got the neuts.
Just expose uranium nitrate to a high flux of neutrons and 3 days later there it is.

Happy Fusoring!
Larry Leins
Fusor Tech

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