50 YEARS AFTER THE NUCLEAR DISASTER
The 17th of january of 1966 a B-52 with four nuclear bombs made refueling maneuvers on Spanish soil, colliding with the tanker aircraft was an explosion and the aircrafts were disintegrated, three bombs fell on the ground and one in the sea, fuel and fuselage also scattered around the area.
Fifty years after the Palomares incident are still many doubts about the official version; classified documents, secrecy and silence make it very difficult to know what steps were taken and the impact in the zone and population. Until today the Spanish Center for Energy Environment and Technology (CIEMAT) performs periodic analyzes to 150 inhabitants of the village of Palomares (Indalo Project).
The four thermonuclear bombs carried in the B-52 containing plutonium, uranium and americium, multistage bombs of 1.1 megatons each (55 times higher destructive power than Hiroshima’s one). Nuclear fuel has spread for more than 266 hectares, the radioactive compounds are alpha category so the particles do not penetrate the skin but those are harmful if inhaled or swallowed aerosols (attached to land and airborne dust) . For someones the greatest nuclear catastrophe in a populated area of the whole story, for the more cautious, the most important until Chernobyl (1986) and the most important in history with nuclear weapons. One of the most obscure and unknowns events of the Spanish dictatorship during the Cold War.
A radiological three-dimensional map of the zone with total restriction of use of 41 hectares was made in 2008. The efforts of some people allow us today to move towards more knowledge of what happened and what they left us there.
Epidemiological report of Doctor Pedro Antonio Martinez Pinilla that for decades conducted studies on the population of Palomares, demonstrate the existence of contamination; in the first study in the years after the accident he hasn’t found increase of deaths by tumor development. But in the second study, 20 years later, he found an increase of tumor development in the town, setting a latency period of polluting waste. A thorough study that provides some answers and some more questions.
The censored Franco’s newscast and the international press just echoed this catastrophe showing images of Spanish Minister and US ambassador carefree attitude, bathing away from areas truly affected. The American Army occupied the area for a few months setting Camp Wilson and proceeding to the work of cleaning, but they didn’t finalize it. Since 2010, it is underway Palomares Rehabilitation Planning for the removal of the remaining land with contamination and transfer to the US for disposal. In 2016 nothing has been done, the ball is on the roof of the highest authorities of the National Security of United States of America, the residues still here.
About the author:
Adrián Domínguez (Spain, 1976) is a documentary photographer. In 2010 he presented Madrid Popular, an anthology of anonymous passers collected in the eponymous book. His pictures has been exhibited in countries like Japan and USA.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Mary is an entrepreneur in the area, she was born in a farmhouse where looked the planes perfectly: “It was our entertainment; every day at 10:30 am airplanes stopped to refuel in the air, that day something exploded… Mary has participated in the March of Palomares led by the Duchess of Medina Sidonia (Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo), protesting about military maneuvers in the zone. In the picture she pose with a mask protesting about lack information and actions by authorities.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Quitapellejos beach, interest point for the press at that time, also houses the Wilson Camp and was where American and Spanish authorities were bathed to the world audience to convey an image of calm and control.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Joaquín is a fisherman of Villaricos, he was the neighbor’s spokesman after disaster. Despite his efforts only to the people of Palomares got attention; the villages of Villaricos, Vera and Garrucha were never included in the subsequent Indalo Project, even finding a few distance from the radioactive components and therefore vulnerable to aerosols of plutonium powered by wind and possible leaks on land and sea . He remember well the first hours when neighbors quieted aircraft fire and rescued the pilots, without nuclear protection staff. “We were a long time without being able to fish and we haven’t received any aid”. From the terrace of his house, he marks the point in the sky where the accident occurred.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Almanzora River (bomb 1) is a dry river with partial pools at its mouth; although neighbors say that “when comes water take-all”. It’s an area where countermeasures were not taken after the accident because is a dry and uninhabited zone. In 1973 the water receded, a large volume of earth was shifted to the sea, renewing the river and the land of the hillside. There are no reports about land poured into the coasts of Villaricos and Vera Playa (the nearest locations). In 1985 the Nuclear Energy Board (JEN) acknowledged the existence of radioactive waste in the zone, with levels up to 20 times higher that is recommended in populated areas.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. The remains of the fuselage of the airplanes were found by the surrounding mountains (Almagrera and Algarrobina) the pieces also gave radiation levels. Today, at Sierra Algarrobina, there is a holiday golf resort crowning the hill.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. The bomb 3 full hit at Palomares village, affecting crops and neighboring houses; the zone3 is now fenced, the land was expropriated becoming part of the current Indalo Project by Center for Energy Environment and Technology (CIEMAT).
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Bomb 2 crashed near the cemetery, creating a huge crater. The zone2 is one of the larger areas bounded, with different environmental measurement devices distributed around the graveyard.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. One of the bombs landed apparently intact (by parachute’s functionality) in the Almanzora river but later a language dispersion was discovered, it had spread up the slope of a hill to the east, called zone6, close to growing greenhouses.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Given the scale of the disaster, the warning signs in fenced areas seems terse and insufficient, against the potential danger that represent. In the picture the main entrance of zone2.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Radioactive compounds are alpha category, so the particles do not penetrate the skin but are harmful if inhaled or swallowed aerosols attached to land and airborne dust. This is an area where combine the sand is a daily task for maintaining the coast.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Tito was born in Los Angeles (USA) but lives in Almería since teenager, he is entrepreneur and photographer. Then he was freelance photographer but his brother, Andrés del Amo, was on United Press staff, he is who uncovered the news on nuclear alert by radioactivity, because he saw the counters geiger and special clothing anti radiation. During the interview, Tito is looking for an unpublished picture of 1966 recently requested by a spanish newspaper.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Behind the so-called zone6 is the football field of Villaricos village. And within walking distance there is an archaelogical and tourist complex that houses a Phoenician necropolis.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. Since 2013 an annual meeting is held in Villaricos, The Dreambeach festival where concentrates thousands of people living on camp sites around the affected areas by nuclear incident.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. José is a great investigator on Palomares Incident and the consequent Indalo Project. He participates in a documentary film and currently he’s launching the last edition of a book on this matter. He explains fluently phases and characteristics of hydrogen bombs that carried the B-52 that day and the complex security system that was decisive for not producing an holocaust. In the picture he’s holding a piece of one of the aircraft found after the accident.
Nuclear disaster in Almería, Spain. The currently Center for Energy Environment and Technology (CIEMAT) is located at forest area in Madrid city, near to an universitary complex, the zone is restricted but it’s used as alive laboratory for nuclear investigation.