THIS week marks the 52nd anniversary of the Palomares H-bomb incident that shocked both Spain and the World.
On January 17, 1966, a national catastrophe occurred as an American B- 52 Bomber, carrying four hydrogen bombs, collided with a KC-135 refuelling tanker over Almeria, sparking a tragic turn of events.
The incident, which killed the entire crew of the KC- 135 as well as three out of the seven B-52 crew, saw three out of the four H-bombs, on board plummet to the ground while the other fell into the sea.
While one suffered damage but did not explode, there were ‘significant explosions’ in the other two, causing devastation to the tiny community of Palomares as radioactive material spread over the town.
Despite not exploding to their maximum potential, with each individual bomb allegedly 70 times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, some 650 acres of land was contaminated with the radioactive material and an estimated 1,400 tonnes of toxic topsoil and vegetation had to be hauled away.
In the aftermath of the event, residents of the 2,000 strong community were left at risk of being exposed to carcinogenic plutonium dust.
The United States and Spain have continuously funded annual health checkups for locals since the event, but officials maintain that there were no dangerous levels of the toxin, despite 5 per cent of those screened showing traces of plutonium in their bodies at the time.
In spite of the reportedly relatively clean bill of health, there is still evidence that the nuclear accident continues to affect the area.
In 2006, The Spanish Centre for Energy Research (CIEMAT) discovered radioactive snails in the region, while stories of radioactive poisoning remain prominent as debris from the accident remains in the area.
After decades of discussions, a statement was signed in October 2015 by the United States’ government with the intent of assisting Spain with the cleanup process of some 50,000 cubic metres of ‘contaminated soil.’
The deal calls for the removal of the town’s nuclear- contaminated soil, with any waste to be disposed of at a site in the United States.
However, that has yet to materialise and it still remains unclear how the Trump administration will view the agreement, signed by Obama, which was not legally binding. The saga continues.