Swedish Scientist Splits the Atom…In His Own Kitchen

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Guest contributor Alex Burns studies biology at Cardiff University in Wales.

Richard Handl, an amateur Swedish scientist, attempted to produce binary fission in the comfort of his own home. The unemployed 31-year-old told the press that he was only doing it as a hobby. Handle kept a blog of his experiments over the past few months in his attempt to build a nuclear reactor; it is documented that he succeeded in creating a small meltdown on his stove. When he tried to complete the nuclear reactor by putting his radioactive elements in the oven, the cooking appliance naturally exploded. After the incident, he was concerned over the legality of what he was doing and so called the Swedish Radiation Authority, who promptly called the police, who then appeared later at his apartment in Ängelholm, in southern Sweden.

Luckily, the police didn’t detect dangerous levels of radiation in his apartment despite being in possession of radium, americium and depleted uranium. He said it was always a hobby and he’s been interested in physics and chemistry. In a statement to the press he said, “I just wanted to see if it is possible to split atoms at home. Although later, he acknowledged that the project probably wasn’t such a good idea and that “from now on, I’ll stick to the theory.

How’d This Mad Scientist Do It?

Handl apparently bought the offending substances on eBay from Germany. He gathered his materials from everyday items such as smoke detectors and luminous watch handles. The smoke detectors provided the americium and the watch handles provided the radium, though where he acquired the depleted uranium is still the subject of police enquiry.

“I tried to cook americium, radium and beryllium in 96% sulphuric-acid, to easier get them blended. But the whole thing exploded up in the air…” he wrote on the blog. Kent Hansen, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, reported that he thought it “unlikely that Handl would have been successful, based on what he knew of the Swede’s materials and techniques. When asked by the BBC concerning the danger of his experiments he replied, “Yes, but I always have a Geiger counter to measure the radiation and I have it under control.

Handl, despite his arrest, remains positive and thinks he will probably just get a fine for unsafe handling of nuclear material. Though he still claims what he was doing was “not so dangerous, he has laconically posted “project cancelled! on his blog subsequent to his indictment.

–Alex Burns

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