Ronald Richter

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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 Perón. Richter's project would deliver — according to Perón's 1951 announcements — cheap energy in containers of two sizes: half liter and one liter, not unlike the milk bottles then in use.[1]

Nationality[edit]

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 Perón overrode Argentine law.[1]

Education[edit]

Richter attended the German University of Prague, graduating in 1935. Sources provide variant narratives about his studies as a doctoral candidate.

According to Gambini,[2] 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:

Richter proposed a thesis, at the German University of Prague, to detect "delta rays" emitted from Earth. Professor Heinrich Rausch von Traubenberg did not agree with the project. The "young genius" went to work somewhere else and graduated in a different field.

— Santos Mayo, Letter to Physics Today, March 2004[3]

Kurt Sitte's recollections of Richter's research under Prof. Furth differed. He recalled:

...when I was Prof. Furth's assistant in the Department of Experimental Physics [of Prague University], [Richter] came to interest us in a fantastic project. He had read (not in a scientific journal, of course) about the discovery of a mysterious radiation, the "earth rays", that radiated from the interior of the Earth and caused a huge type of fabulous effects. These were what he wanted to research. He was very excited with the idea, and it was very difficult to convince him (if we really did) that the "evidence" cited was spurious.

His thesis was not published.

Kurt Sitte, Mariscotti, 1985, quoting Alemann, 1955[4]

Career[edit]

Europe[edit]

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.[5][6] He met the aeronautical engineer Kurt Tank in London; Tank later emigrated to Argentina, hired by Perón's government under the cover name of Pedro Matthies. [2]

Argentina[edit]

Recommended to Perón by Kurt Tank, Richter moved to Argentina and was received, according to Gambini (1999, v.1, p. 396), by the German industrialist August Siebrecht, ex-nazi spy. He took Richter to Córdoba, where Kurt Tank was developing aircraft, having been hired by Perón. 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.[6]

In 1949 Perón 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. Perón's reasons for backing Richter were in line with the ideology of modernization underlying 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.[7]

Perón 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, Perón 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) [3]

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.[7]

After it became evident that Richter's project was spurious, Perón appointed a technical committee which included José 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 Perón in September 1952 and soon after that project was terminated.[5]

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.[8]

Portrait[edit]

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 Perón and Eva Perón 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 Perón (Alicia Dujovne Ortiz, 1996):

This German “scientist” had succeeded in convincing Perón that he was capable of producing atomic energy. Perón had an atomic plant built for him . . . The country lacked cement to build homes, yet tons of mortar were shuttled to Huemul. With his raincoat and his tousled hair, Richter looked like a mad scientist, and he made everyone laugh — except Perón, who for once was very serious. Evita would say, “The General is very naive.” Needless to say, nothing came of this endeavor.


— Dujovne Ortiz, 1996[9]

From Juan G. Roederer (2003):

That fusion energy project, conceived and directed by Austrian physicist and con artist Ronald Richter, was being developed in absolute secrecy on Isla Huemul...some high-level members of Perón's entourage had serious doubts about Richter's sincerity and the soundness of his ideas. The doubters discreetly sought the advice of scientists from advanced countries — a risky move because of Perón's initial blind support of Richter.... Perón startled the world with his announcement that "the Argentine scientist Richter" — who couldn't speak a word of Spanish — had achieved the controlled release of nuclear-fusion energy. Not one real Argentine physicist was participating in the Huemul project, and not one in the entire country believed in the truth of Perón's announcement.

— Juan G. Roederer, 2003[10]

Richter, The Opera: A Musical Documentary[edit]

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 Colón) and in France (Théâtre Paris-Villete). Authored by Mario Lorenzo and Esteban Buch, its title is Richter: Ópera Documental de Cámara.

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.

  • Spectacles. Richter: Opéra documentaire de Mario Lorenzo.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gambini, Hugo (1999). Historia del Peronismo. Editorial Planeta Buenos Aires. pp. v.1, p.397. ISBN 950-49-0226-X. 
  2. ^ Gambini 1999, v.1, p.396
  3. ^ Mayo, Santos (March 2004). "More on the Value of Ronald Richter's Work". Physics Today. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  4. ^ Mariscotti, Mario J. (1985). El secreto atómico de Huemul... Buenos Aires: Editorial Planeta. p. 208. ISBN 950-37-0109-0. 
  5. ^ a b Roederer, Juan G. (January 2003). "Early Cosmic-Ray Research in Argentina". Physics Today. Retrieved 2008-05-11. See section titled "The Argentine scientist Richter"
  6. ^ a b Mariscotti, 1985
  7. ^ a b Cabral, Regis (1988). "The Peron - Richter Fusion Program, 1948 - 1952". In Saldana, J. J. Cross Cultural Diffusion of Science: Latin America (2) (Mexico: Sociedad Latino Americana de Historia de las Ciencias y la Tecnologia). pp. 77–106. 
  8. ^ "RICHTER: DE LA FUSION NUCLEAR AL OLVIDO". Microsemanario (Secretaría de Extensión Universitaria de la Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales - UBA) 2 (43). November–December 1991. 
  9. ^ Dujovne Ortiz, Alicia (1996). Eva Perón. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-14599-3. 
  10. ^ Roederer, 2003

References[edit]

Translated excerpts[edit]

^ * From Gambini (1999, Vol.1, p. 398):

"While in a state of delirious enthusiasm [Perón] 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 (1999, Vol.1, p. 401):

"[From t]he writer Tomás Eloy Martínez (1996, p.182): ...Perón] 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 (1956, p.214) who took it from its original source: the newspaper Clarin, Buenos Aires, issue of October 7, 1955.