Spain to US: Clean Up Your Old Nuke Mess

Madrid is addressing 1968 nuclear incident
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 6, 2023 1:35 PM CST
Spain to US: Clean Up Your Old Nuke Mess
In this Jan. 17, 1966, file photo, part of the wrecked fuselage of an USAF B52 bomber lies where it crashed near Palomares, Spain, after a collision in flight with an USAF Kc 135 tanker while refueling.   (AP Photo/File)

Spain said Monday it has asked the United States to begin procedures to remove soil contaminated with radioactivity after a mid-air collision dumped four US hydrogen bombs near a southern Spanish village—nearly 60 years ago. None of the bombs exploded, but the plutonium-filled detonators on two went off, spreading several pounds of highly radioactive plutonium 239 across the landscape around Palomares. The Foreign Ministry said there would be no more details given on the petition until there is an official reply from the US, reports the AP.

The bombs fell on Jan. 17, 1966, when a US B-52 bomber and a refueling plane crashed into each other, killing seven of 11 crew members. There were no fatalities on the ground. The accident happened during the height of the Cold War when it was US policy to keep nuclear-armed warplanes in the air constantly near the Soviet border. Spain and the US signed a statement of intent in 2015 to 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 US. But for several reasons no agreement was ever signed.

The Spanish state news agency EFE said some 1.76 million cubic feet of land over 44 plots were affected. The government has since been renting the land from its owners to keep it protected and now hopes to expropriate it. Leading Spanish daily El País, which published the story on the petition Monday, said the request had been presented several months ago and that the U.S. reaction so far had been positive. The newspaper said Spain was pushing for a quick agreement as the country will be holding general elections in December. (At one point, Palomares was trying to cash in on its infamy.)

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