Ronald Richter (1909-1991) was an Austrian, later Argentine, scientist who became famous in connection with the Huemul Project and the National Atomic Energy Commission. This was intended to generate energy from nuclear fusion in the 1950s in Argentina, during the presidency of Juan Peron. Richter's project would deliver — according to Peron's 1951 announcements — cheap energy in containers of two sizes: half liter and one liter, not unlike the milk bottles then in use.
Of German origin, Richter was born in Falkenau an der Eger (renamed Sokolov in 1948), Bohemia during the Austrian rule of the Czech Sudetenland. Richter's original nationality remains uncertain, it not being known whether he was Austrian or German. He was eventually naturalized Argentine in the early 1950s when President Juan Peron overrode Argentine law.
Richter attended the German University of Prague
, graduating in 1935. Sources provide variant narratives about his studies as a doctoral candidate.
According to Gambini , Richter was awarded a doctorate in natural sciences in 1955. (However, another source claims that he was not awarded a doctoral degree because he had misinterpreted his research results. He had concluded that he had discovered delta rays being emitted by the earth, but in fact he had been detecting X-rays scattered by the ground.
According to his recollection, Santos Mayo had personally heard Richard Gans say:
Kurt Sitte's recollections of Richter's research under Prof. Furth differed. He recalled:
Richter worked in Germany, England and France. Following the end of World War II, his only known jobs were a six-month stint working on explosives and a few commercial contracts. He met the aeronautical engineer Kurt Tank in London; Tank later later emigrated to Argentina, hired by Peron's government under the cover name of Pedro Matthies. [*]
Recommended to Peron by Kurt Tank, Richter moved to Argentina and was received, according to Gambini , by the German industrialist August Siebrecht, ex-nazi spy. He took Richter to Cordoba, where Kurt Tank was developing aircraft, having been hired by Peron. Tank was interested in Richter's proposal to use nuclear energy for aircraft propulsion. Richter continued to address Tank as Prof. Dr. Pedro Matthies in his correspondence about the Huemul Project.
In 1949 Peron hired Richter who had convinced Peron that he could produce controlled nuclear fusion using cheap materials in a process that could supply cheap energy in enormous quantities, a program that eventually became known as the Huemul Project. Peron's reasons for backing Richter were in line with the ideology of modernization underlaying his concept of the "New Argentina"; he was not interested in the military applications of atomic energy but rather saw it as a way to expand iron and steel production.
Peron believed that any project undertaken by a German scientist was bound to be successful. Due to his political disagreements with true Argentine scientists of the stature of, for example, Enrique Gaviola, Peron was reluctant to seek their advice on Richter's proposal and he gave Richter an effective blank check and appointed him as his personal representative in the Bariloche area. The total cost of the project was estimated at 300 million USD (2003 value) [*]
In 1951 Richter announced that he had achieved controlled nuclear fusion under laboratory conditions; a claim that was later proven false, it transpiring that Richer had simply exploded hydrogen in an electric arc.
After it became evident that Richter's project was spurious, Peron appointed a technical committee which included Jose Balseiro, a former faculty member at the La Plata Institute of Physics, which was to report directly to him whether Richter's project should be discontinued. The committee analyzed Richter's work and concluded that the actual temperature reached in his experiments was far too low to produce a true thermonuclear reaction. They reported their findings to Peron in September 1952 and soon after that project was terminated.
After the termination of the Huemul Project in 1952, Richter appears to have spent periods of time abroad including some time in Libya. Eventually he returned to Argentina, where he died in 1991. A short announcement of Richter's death appeared in an obituary published by Microsemanario.
An emergent characterization of Ronald Richter continues to evolve throughout the examination of multiple biographic sources that describe and/or comment on Richter and his project. Due to Richter's close association with Juan Peron and Eva Peron and the relevance of nuclear physics for the international scene, the sources cover a wide spectrum. They range from works about the Argentine government of the time to international evaluations of the Huemul Project in the context of the Cold War and its aftermath.
The following are quotations from books and articles published since then by journalists, biographers, physicists, and historians. Their respective sources are fully referenced below:
From Eva Peron :
From Juan G. Roederer (2003):
Richter, The Opera: A Musical Documentary
Ronald Richter inspired an opera which contains both passionate and erratic expressions together with his references to the spectacular experiments. It has been performed both in Argentina (Teatro Colon) and in France (Theatre Paris-Villete). Authored by Mario Lorenzo and Esteban Buch, its title is Richter: Opera Documental de Camara.
The plot develops poetically framed between the ever present Patagonian winds of the roaring forties and the recurrent breaking of the waves of the lake on the shores of the island... until the peace is shattered by German utterances and acoustic bangs.
Summary and critique. Casullo, Eduardo. La Aventura de la Isla de la Mula: Richter.
Spectacles. Richter: Opera documentaire de Mario Lorenzo.
Alemann, Peter (1955). Esto Es, last week of October 1955.
Confalonieri, Orestes D. (1956). Peron contra Peron, Editorial Antygua, Buenos Aires.
Eloy Martinez, Tomas (1996). Las Memorias del General. Editorial Planeta, Buenos Aires. ISBN 950-742-697-3. See translated excerpt, below.
Luzuriaga, Javier (2005). ''Even in Translation, Richter's 'Science' Unimpressive(January 2005). Letter by Luzuriaga, no reply.
Winterberg, Friedwardt (2004). Ronald Richter, Genius or Nut?'' (August 2003). Letter by Winterberg followed by Roederer's reply.
Extensive discussion in Chapter 10.
From Gambini :
"While in a state of delirious enthusiasm [Peron] said [just] anything --recalled Richter-- and ventured to prognosticate that I would obtain for him bottled electric energy. As a consequence of those exaggerations the plan to expand the CADE [main source of electric power for the greater Buenos Aires] was dropped, giving rise to an energy setback."
From Gambini :"[From t]he writer Tomas Eloy Martinez : ...Peron] was clumsy in announcing the false finding in a resounding manner, assuring that from that moment Argentina would sell nuclear energy for domestic use in bottles of one litre and half a litre. Naturally, this caused what in Argentina has been known [since then as] a 'historical embarrassment.'"
NOTE: Eloy Martinez cites the origin of his quotation to be Confalonieri who took it from its original source:
the newspaper Clarin, Buenos Aires, issue of October 7, 1955.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Ronald Richter