Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Glowing Sands Of Plutonium Beach

Which Western European country once had four nuclear bombs dropped on its territory? The answer is Spain. The locality of Palomares, in Almeria, was the site of a collision in January 1966 involving a B-52 bomber and the plane that was supposed to be refuelling it. The bomber was carrying four nuclear bombs, three of which fell onto land. Of these latter bombs, the conventional explosives in two of them detonated with the result that the surrounding land was severely contaminated with uranium and plutonium. The fourth bomb fell into the sea and was the object of a lengthy search until it was recovered.

Manuel Fraga, who was Franco’s Minister of Tourism at the time of the accident, decided to bathe in the sea off Palomares together with the American ambassador to show that there was nothing to worry about. He’s still alive, and he certainly doesn’t glow in the dark. It would also probably be unfair to attribute his daft political views solely to the effects of radioactivity. The Americans gave an undertaking to remove all of the contaminated soil, and did indeed remove a substantial quantity of earth. Spain doesn’t have the resources to deal with plutonium, that tends to be a prerogative of those nations that possess nuclear weapons.

Come on in, the water's really hot!

Time passed and the incident was more or less forgotten. Then, with pressure from (what else would it be?) the construction industry to build on the affected area it was decided to carry out some rigorous tests in the area to check whether it was suitable for residential use 40 years after the accident. The result of these tests showed that the US had, er, “forgotten” something as they shipped out following the cleanup operation. Two sizeable trenches containing contaminated materials were left behind without any protection or warning to the local inhabitants. Perhaps the construction plans for Palomares will be put on hold as a result of the building industry crisis, in any case it looks like it’s still a bit early to be buying a dream home in the Plutonium Beach Resort.

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