Forty years after A-bomb crash, clean up to start

9th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

9 October 2006, MADRID — Spain and the United States have agreed to clean up a town which was contaminated with radioactive material after a mid-air crash 40 years ago.

9 October 2006

MADRID —  Spain and the United States have agreed to clean up a town which was contaminated  with radioactive material after a mid-air crash 40 years ago.

Palomares, in Spain's southern Almeria province, is still contaminated with plutonium and other elements from two U.S. A-bombs.

The Spanish daily El Pais reported on Monday that the U.S. Energy Department and the Spanish government have agreed to clean up the area last month.

The accident occurred on 17 January, 1966, when a U.S. bomber making a routine low-level flight over the Iberian Peninsula collided with a tanker plane during a mid-air refuelling operation.

Four atomic bombs fell from the plane with two of the weapons landing in Palomares and releasing plutonium and other radioactive elements.

Neither of the devices detonated.

The third bomb was recovered intact on the ground and the fourth was located months later in the ocean.

A month before the last bomb was removed from the water, Spain's then-information and tourism minister, Manuel Fraga, and U.S. envoy to Madrid Angier Biddle Duke went swimming at the Palomares beach to dispel public suspicions about any radioactive contamination of the coastline.

El Pais said the agreement established all costs of cleaning up the coast will be shared, although the projected cost was not specified.

The decontamination work will take years, however, and its extent will depend upon the levels of radioactivity found in the area.

"The Americans don't know what's there. There might be nothing, but there could be a problem, and if so, it will be resolved," said Juan Antonio Rubio, the director general of the Ciemat energy, environment and technology research centre, the entity charged with handling the operation, told the paper.

The head of the Andalusian regional government, Socialist Manuel Chaves, said though 40 years have passed since the mishap, it was "good news" that Washington was going "to pay a large part of, or share the expenses of," the clean-up of radioactive elements that leaked out of the U.S. bombs.

"It's good news because it concerns an area that represents an important tourist spot and, above all, due to the danger the radiation could pose, even though it's true that no abnormality has been noted (in the area) for all these years," Chaves said.

In 2004, the Spanish government decided to expropriate several plots of land in Palomares to prevent potential risks of contamination caused by the bombs.

In a health analysis carried out among Palomares residents between 1988 and 1994, experts found traces of plutonium in 29 people and of the radioactive element americium in six others, but there is no proof that anyone has died as a result.

Regarding the ground in the area, at the time of the health study the remaining radioactivity in the region was tested and the results showed that "a certain amount of radioactivity" was present.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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