Super Small Nuclear Reactors

You've heard of tenants getting eviction notices for not paying rent or for making too much noise. But in 2011, a 31-year-old Swedish man named Richard Handl became possibly the first apartment renter in history to get in hot water with his landlord for trying to build a nuclear reactor in his kitchen.

Handl, who told a local newspaper that he'd been interested in nuclear physics since his was in his teens, spent about $950 to acquire the parts and materials he needed to build a DIY nuke, and amassed the necessary quantity of radium by buying luminous clock hands on eBay for a few bucks apiece. He also extracted thorium oxide, another ingredient, from Coleman gas lanterns, and built a crude neutron gun by inserting a small glass pipe inside a plastic pill bottle and covering it with lead. (In case anyone else wanted to emulate him, Handl dutifully documented all these details in his "Richard's Reactor" blog.) But when the amateur nuclear engineer contacted government officials to make sure he wasn't breaking any laws, the government sent police to raid his home and seize the DIY reactor [source: The Local].

Nevertheless, our Swedish friend may have been onto something. Nuclear power, which generates energy with only tiny amounts of greenhouse emissions, was enjoying an image upgrade until an earthquake caused a catastrophic accident at a Japanese nuclear complex outside Tokyo in March 2011. But even if big nuke plants seem scary, what about smaller, more easily contained units? Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a design for a reactor the size of a hot tub that could generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes. One problem: At $25 million apiece, the price is a bit too steep to justify putting one out on the backyard deck [source: Zyga]. Another Chicago-based outfit reportedly has been trying to develop an even smaller nuke, this one the size of a microwave oven [source: Koziarski].