Smoke Detector Batteries

A couple of years ago, there was a piece on 60 Minutes about a kid who had been trying to build his own nuclear reactor and was using smoke detector batteries as fuel. This all came to light after something blew up and they had to call out the haz-mat teams to clean the mess up. In the interview with the kid (who at last report was now serving in the US Navy), he said that it was very easy for him to get the batteries, and it didn’t take long for him to get enough to create a hazardous condition.

While I realize that it’d take literally tons and tons of those batteries to pose a serious hazard, one has to wonder if in the years since if the Feds have imposed any stricter controls on the material. Anybody know?

It’s not the batteries but the small amount of americum (a trans uranium ‘synthetic’ element) that he collected

What sort of controls could they impose?; the material is pretty much essential to the function of smoke detectors (I know there are other types, but I think the ionising types are more sensitive and reliable.

It’s not the smoke detector BATTERIES that are anything special - most smoke detectors take a standard 9V battery. More likely, they were implying that something could be done with the tiny bit of Americium that is used in a smoke detector as an ionization source. I question that.

You’re probably referring to the Radioactive Boy Scout. As it says on this page, he used lithium from batteries to help purify thorium from camp lantern mantles. He tried to use americium from smoke detectors to transform the thorium into U233, but it didn’t give off enough neutrons. He didn’t produce dangerous radioactivity until he found a small vial of radium paint that was once used for luminous clock dials.

Read the whole story. The kid was ingenious!

There have been earlier threads about this. A search might be productive.

How Smoke Detectors Work

How he obtained 'em was he wrote the companies who made them and told them that he was a dump site for the old ones. Its the disposal of those things that’s problematic. According to the kid, the companies were so desperate to unload the things that they didn’t bother to check if he was regulated or anything, they just shipped 'em to him.

rowrrbazzle, yup, that’s the guy I’m talking about, and he certainly is ingenious! According to the 60 Minutes, he’s now interested in biology! How much you wanna bet that he comes out with a Clonomatic[sup]TM[/sup] machine one day?

Cecil Adams on Is my household smoke detector emitting radioactive rays?