Australian news, and some related international items

The almost forgotten disaster – America dropped 4 nuclear bombs on Spain

text-historyThe day America dropped 4 nuclear bombs on Spain, [excellent photos] Daily Mail, 19 Jan 18  … but the disaster, 50 years ago, has been forgotten by all but its surviving victims 

  • On January 16 1966, a U.S. B-52 Stratofortress took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force base in North Carolina 
  • Bombers were continually flown on 24-hour missions across the Atlantic, to provide the States’ nuclear capability 
  • It was a routine mission for the crew but then disaster struck over Palomares, Andalucia, as the aircraft refuelled
  • Four hydrogen bombs plummeted to earth at horrific speeds, which would have killed millions had they exploded 

By GUY WALTERS FOR THE DAILY MAIL18 January 2016   “……the B-52 had overshot and the boom had missed the fuel nozzle in the top of the plane. Instead, the boom had smashed into the bomber with such force that its left wing was ripped off.

Fire quickly spread up the fuel-filled boom and ignited all 30,000 gallons of the tanker’s kerosene, causing it to plummet to the ground. Meanwhile, the bomber started to break up, and the crew did their best to get out of the plane using parachutes.

As for the hydrogen bombs, there was nothing that could be done. In less than two minutes, they would be crashing into the Earth at an enormous speed — potentially destroying much of the regions of Andalucia and Murcia.

What in the name of God are doing, Pepé? Get away from there! This could be dangerous.
Pedro de la Torre Flores’ wife, Luisa

Hundreds of thousands of people could be about to die, and the nuclear fallout would have the capacity to kill millions more all over Europe — not just from radiation poisoning but from cancers for decades to come……..

The nuclear payloads of the four American B28 hydrogen bombs mercifully did not detonate when they landed, even though the conventional explosives in two of the bombs did explode, showering some 500 acres around the fishing village of Palomares with three kilograms of highly radioactive plutonium-239.

Despite attempts made at the time by the Americans to clean up the mess, the crash that Monday morning 50 years ago still has ramifications today.

Just last October, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to finalise a deal with the Spanish Foreign Minister that calls upon the U.S. to remove and dispose of some 50,000 cubic metres of earth that remains contaminated.

This raises some awkward questions for the United States, many of which have a direct bearing on the 1,600 inhabitants of Palomares, at least half of whom are British expatriates. In particular, why have the Americans taken so long to clean up the fallout?

As soon as the crash took place, the residents of Palomares found themselves bombarded with huge scraps of flaming metal. In the words of one five-year-old girl, the sky was ‘raining fire’.

In his elementary school, teacher José Molinero told his pupils to stay inside. A piece of the bomber’s landing gear had smashed down just 80 yards away.

Others had similarly near misses, not least 83-year-old Pedro de la Torre Flores, who was standing with two of his great-nephews that day. One of the four hydrogen bombs fell right in front of them — and blew up.

It was Pedro’s lucky day, though, because the explosion was not a full-scale thermonuclear blast but the detonation of the bomb’s conventional payload. Although Pedro and his nephews were knocked over, they were not vaporised.

So why did the bomb not explode? The reason is because it had not been armed by the crew, which meant that the electrical circuits required to bring about a full explosion had not been activated. The conventional explosives in hydrogen bombs such as the B28 have to be detonated in a certain sequence in order to bring about the fission of the bomb’s uranium and plutonium, and then the subsequent fusion of the hydrogen atoms that really gives the bomb its terrifying power.

Therefore, when an unarmed nuclear bomb’s conventional payload detonates, the effect is not nuclear armageddon but that of a ‘dirty bomb’ — a conventional explosive that spreads toxic radioactive substances.

Soon after the bomb had landed, the father of one of Pedro’s great-nephews started trying to kick out a ring of fire that surrounded it, and even accidentally kicked the bomb.

It was at this point that his wife Luisa ran out of their house and admonished her husband in what must have been the greatest understatement of the Cold War: ‘What in the name of God are doing, Pepé? Get away from there! This could be dangerous.’

What of the remaining three bombs? Miraculously, not one of them caused any damage to people or property. The second bomb also detonated, although only half of its conventional explosives blew up. The third landed in a dried river bed without exploding, and the fourth fell six miles out to sea.

Still more fortunate, the parachutes on the bombs had failed, which meant they fell with such force that they were largely buried when they detonated, so only a relatively small amount of radioactive plutonium was blown around……….
Three bombs were located and removed within 24 hours, but the Americans would have a greater problem with the fourth, which was lying 2,500 feet below the surface of the Mediterranean.

During the recovery period, the U.S. and Spanish governments handled the understandable public anxiety in the utterly inept way at which officialdom excels. Statements ranged from straight denials that there were nuclear weapons involved, to an acknowledgement that there may have been, and finally to a reluctant, sheepish confession.

The two governments also remained tight-lipped as to whether the residents of Palomares had been affected by radiation. Certainly, urine samples at the time showed that the population had breathed in only minute amounts of plutonium particles, and it was considered that nobody required any special attention or treatment.

However, a greater problem lay with the ground over which the particles had been blown. To its credit, the United States removed nearly 5,000 barrels of radioactive soil for burial at the Atomic Energy Commission headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina, and farmers were compensated for tomato crops that had been affected.

Yet despite the American efforts to eradicate the radioactivity, many residents remain unconvinced that they are safe. According to one report, around 50 villagers are still carrying plutonium in their bodies, and there is anecdotal evidence that, after the incident, many villagers died of cancers relatively young. Unfortunately, there is now no way of confirming this, as all the medical records were suppressed and destroyed by the fascist authorities of General Franco.

It is therefore unsurprising that Palomares has been a bone of contention between Spain and the United States for decades.

In 2008, the Spanish nuclear authority reported that more than 12 acres of land is still contaminated, and that some half a kilo of plutonium still remains.

After much diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing, the Americans have finally decided to do the decent thing and clear up their atomic mess once and for all.

Under the deal finalised by the Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States will now have to remove the remaining soil.

This will be a huge project, taking some two years, and costing some £26 million — a true legacy of the dangers of the Cold War.However, when one considers what the cost may have been, then that figure seems very small indeed.  Bette Wendorf’s dark premonition may have been right; but, back then, it was easy to have foreseen something far, far worse.

January 19, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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