Rockwall man boasts of nuclear reactor, but no arrest made

Rockwall man boasts of nuclear reactor, but no arrest made
07:46 PM CST on Thursday, January 10, 2008
Gambrel style reactor !
By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News
A 22-year-old Rockwall man's Internet boasts that he had made a mini-nuclear reactor in his garage resulted in a visit recently by federal authorities.

Representatives with the FBI and the Texas Department of State Health Services' Radiation Control Program took away the man's science equipment on Friday – but not because he was doing anything dangerous or illegal.

Rather, the man's parents, with whom he is living, asked that the equipment be removed, officials said.

The man, who was not identified by authorities and who could not be reached, was experimenting with Americium-241, a man-made radioactive element common in smoke detectors, and natural radioactive ore that he had bought legally over eBay, said Victor Dricks, a regional spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Commission investigators discovered the homemade atomic lab on Dec. 29, when they found the man's boasts on an amateur science blog. He said on the blog that he had produced high amounts of radiation in his house while making Plutonium-239, a component in nuclear weapons. He made no mention of nefarious motives; he was just interested in the science, officials said.

Tests on the home did not show abnormal levels of radiation, officials said. The man's "claims that he had created a nuclear reactor that was producing high amounts of radiation were unfounded," Mr. Dricks said. Neighbors were not in danger, he added.

No charges will be filed because it is legal to possess the ore he had, Mr. Dricks said. "It's naturally occurring uranium, like you'd find in the ground. It's only when it's processed and the radioactive component is concentrated is where a license is required. He had not been doing that."

Dallas FBI spokesman Mark White said the man "hadn't done anything to the point where he committed a crime. If he had kept his experiment going, it probably wouldn't have blown up, but it probably would have been a cleanup issue."