Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Eighty days after if fell into the ocean following the January 1966 midair collision between a nuclear-armed B-52G bomber and a KC-135 refueling tanker over Palomares, Spain, this B28RI nuclear bomb was recovered from 2,850 feet (869 meters) of water and lifted aboard the USS Petrel (note the missing tail fins and badly dented "false nose").

This photograph was among the first ever published of a U.S. hydrogen bomb. Left to right are Sr. Don Antonio Velilla Manteca, chief of the Spanish Nuclear Energy Board in Palomares; Brigadier General Arturo Montel Touzet, Spanish coordinator for the search and recovery operation; Rear Admiral William S. Guest, commander of U.S. Navy Task Force 65; and Major General Delmar E. Wilson, commander of the Sixteenth Air Force. The B28 had a maximum yield of 1.45 megatons.

Source: Brookings

Last month I was interviewed by a Japanese tv crew for a primetime documentary on Broken Arrows (serious military accidents involving nuclear weapons) – on the day before the earthquake [See: Japanese Earthquake: Nuclear Accidents 1]


I was the main author and producer of this book (published in 1986), at that time the most comprehensive list of civil and military nuclear accidents available. What follows is a short version of one of the lengthier accounts in the book concerning  Broken Arrow 5: Palomares.

A B-52 bomber, carrying four H-bombs collided with a flying tanker during refuelling, 30,000ft above  Palomares,  a small fishing village of some 3,000 people,  on the Spanish coast. Both planes broke up spreading debris over 100 sqmls.

Bomb 1 was recovered relatively intact from a dry river bed. The high explosive in Bombs 2 and 3 exploded, scattering plutonium over the village and its surroundings. Bomb 4 fell into the sea.

This triggered off not only a massive decontamination on land but also what has been described as ‘the most expensive, intensive, harrowing and feverish underwater search for a man-made object in world history.’ It took them two weeks to find it [The proud moment is pictured above]

Ever since the accident, there have been concerns over health problems and contaminated water in the area and a long-running compensation battles.

Thanks to John (like the suntan !) for tipping THE GENERALIST off to the coverage in The Olive Press ( billed as ‘Spain’s No 1 English News website’) of the latest developments in the story.

 Operation Nuclear Clean-Up

‘THE US has finally agreed to help clean up land it contaminated with nuclear bombs in Almeria.

It will ‘co-operate’ with Spain to remove toxic plutonium near Palomares. A total of 60 hectares of land were contaminated after a B-52 bomber and tanker collided in 1966 detonating two explosives. After the accident, America removed 1,300 cubic metres of soil, but Spain is demanding the remaining 6,000 cubic metres are taken away. A US spokesman confirmed both countries would now split the cost of the clean-up, estimated at 31 million euros.’

The Olive Press reported as recently as July 30th, 2010, in a story entitled Nuclear Water, that radioactive traces had been found in tap water in 19 Almeira villages.

In January 25th, 2007, they published Bob Maddox’s lengthy account of the original incident - ‘The day the H-bombs came to Andalucia – on the fortieth anniversary.



No comments: