When H-bombs Rained on Spain
U.S. and Spain finally cleaning up 1966 atomic accident
Washington and Madrid finally signed an agreement to finish cleaning up the village of Palomares in southern Spain, where a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber and a KC-135 tanker collided and, besides killing seven airmen, also rained down 40,000 gallons of jet fuel … and four hydrogen bombs. In 1966.
Yep, 49 years ago.
The Associated Press has more on the new accord:
Under a statement of intent signed by Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the two countries will negotiate a binding agreement to further restore and clear up the Palomares site and arrange for the disposal of the contaminated soil at an appropriate site in the United States.
In a joint press conference in Madrid, Margallo said the process would begin soon but gave no details.
The 1966 incident was just one of many nuclear mishaps during the chilliest decades of the Cold War. According to The Brookings Institution,
of the four unarmed B28 hydrogen bombs carried by the B-52 (a weapon with yields between 70 kilotons to 1.45 megatons), three crashed on the ground in the vicinity of Palomares, a poor farming community one mile off the coastal highway. The fourth sank off the coast and was missing for nearly three months, before being located by the submersible Alvin five miles offshore in 2,850 feet of water.
The high explosives in two of the bombs which fell on Palomares detonated, digging craters six to 10 feet deep and scattering plutonium and other debris from 100 to 500 yards away from the impact area (the third bomb was recovered relatively intact from a dry riverbed).
A radiation survey conducted jointly by the Defense Nuclear Agency and the Junta de Energia Nuclear found that no less than 650 acres of village, crops and farms were contaminated; however, during the survey winds picked up and scattered the plutonium dust, and the DNA’s subsequent report noted: “The total extent of the spread will never be known.” Yet there was only sporadic monitoring of villagers and no effort to determine what level of contamination was acceptable.