Handl isn’t the first man to be arrested with the early workings of a homemade nuclear reactor on his property. Back in 1994, 17-year-old David Hahn, aka the “Radioactive Boy Scout”, tried to create a functioning reactor in a backyard shed at his house in Michigan.
Hahn collected reactor components from everyday household items including americium from smoke detectors and radium from clocks. He even duped professors and adult scientists into thinking he was their colleague instead of a high-school student.
His reaction chamber was a large bored-out piece of lead where he conducted his experiments. The reaction never reached critical mass but it did produce dangerous levels of radiation. His radioactive backyard lab was discovered after a chance encounter with police. The shed and surrounding property was declared a Superfund site and cost $US60,000 to clean up.
Handl was much less sophisticated than Hahn. The Swiss man may have been inspired by Hahn, but his work area was his kitchen and his first reaction vessel was a pot. He started off by dissolving radium in 96 per cent sulphuric acid, a procedure that went horribly awry. Wondering if what he was doing was wrong, Handl sent a letter to the Swiss Radiation Authority which responded with a police raid. After the incident, Handl claims he is done with experiments and will stick with the theory instead. [HD.se and Harpers and AP and Mark Foreman]