Rayons delta

Ronald Richter was born in Falkenau an der Eger (in Czech Falknov nad Ohří renamed Sokolov in 1948), Bohemia (now in Czech Republic) while it was part of the Austrian empire. Richter was of German origin. 

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:

« 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

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

On the recommendation of Kurt Tank in 1947, Richter was invited to Argentina to develop a nuclear program for General Juan Perón. He learned that a German Tokamak had been smuggled to Argentina and Perón desperately needed an expert able to bring the device back to life. Richter brought knowledge of sophisticated Nazi particle accelerator technology and was received by the German industrialist and ex-Nazi spy August Siebrecht. Siebrecht took Richter to Córdoba, where Tank was developing aircraft. 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 Perón hired Richter, who had convinced him that he could produce controlled nuclear fusion using cheap materials in a process that could supply enormous quantities of cheap energy, 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 saw it as a way to expand iron and steel production.

Perón believed that any project undertaken by a Nazi German scientist was bound to be successful. Due to his political disagreements with Argentine scientists of stature, such as Enrique Gaviola, Perón was reluctant to seek their advice on Richter’s proposal, and he gave Richter carte blanche and appointed him as his personal representative in the Bariloche area. The total cost of the project was estimated at US$300 million (2003 value)

In 1951 Richter announced that he had achieved controlled nuclear fusion under laboratory conditions, a claim later proven false: it transpired that Richer had simply exploded hydrogen in an electric arc.

« 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