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US Will Clean Area In Spain Where Hydrogen Bombs Fell

HughPickens.com writes: Rafael Minder writes in the NY Times that almost 50 years after coming close to possibly provoking a nuclear disaster, Secretary of State John Kerry, following years of wrangling between Spain and the U.S., signed an agreement to remove contaminated soil from an area in southern Spain where an American warplane accidentally dropped hydrogen bombs. In 1966 a bomber collided with a refueling tanker in midair and dropped four hydrogen bombs, two of which released plutonium into the atmosphere. No warheads detonated, narrowly averting what could have been an explosion more powerful than the atomic strikes against Japan at the end of World War II. Four days after the accident, the Spanish government stated that “the Palomares incident was evidence of the dangers created by NATO’s use of the Gibraltar airstrip,” announcing that NATO aircraft would no longer be permitted to fly over Spanish territory either to or from Gibraltar. The U.S. later announced that it would no longer fly over Spain with nuclear weapons, and the Spanish government formally banned U.S. flights over its territory that carried such weapons.

Neither Kerry nor Spanish Foreign Minister García-Margallo said exactly how much contaminated soil would be sent back, where it would be stored in the United States, or who would pay for the cleanup — some of the issues that have held up a deal until now. Spain has insisted that any contaminated soil be sent to the United States, because Spain does not have plants to store it. Concern over the site was reawakened in the 1990s when tests revealed high levels of americium, an isotope of plutonium, and further tests showed that 50,000 cubic meters of earth were still contaminated. The Spanish government appropriated the land in 2003 to prevent it being used.

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