19. Argentina Invests A Fortune in a Mad Nazi Scientist’s Batty Fusion Power Plan
In the spring of 1951, newspapers all around the world carried sensational news: the discovery of practical fusion power in Argentina. On March 24th of that year, Argentina’s president Juan Peron announced that his country had mastered “the controlled liberation of atomic energy”, not from uranium, but from hydrogen. He added that the discovery would prove “transcendental for the future life” of Argentina, and would bring it “a greatness which today we cannot imagine”. Peron went on to promise a future in which energy would be “sold in half-liter bottles like milk”. However, thermonuclear fusion was advanced technology that that neither the US nor USSR had mastered at the time. So how could Argentina, then a rural of country of fewer than 16 million people, achieve what neither global superpower could? The answer was: it could not.
It turned out that Peron had been conned by a German WWII aircraft designer named Ronald Richter, who had wildly misrepresented his credentials in a successful bid to get funding for a fusion reactor. Argentine scientists knew Richter’s claims were BS, but Peron wanted to believe, so he did. Thus, a big chunk of Argentina’s budget was poured into building a massive compound for Richter on Huemul Island, in an Andean lake. In a humiliation for all involved, Richter’s claims were debunked almost immediately after they were announced by Peron. Richter was eventually jailed for having “misled” the Argentine president, and his embarrassed government razed most of the lab to the ground and tried to pretend the whole thing had never happened. After his release from prison, Richter settled down to become a chicken farmer, but continued to insist to his dying days that he had mastered nuclear fusion.