When envisioning nefarious faces throughout history, certain personages come to mind - Adolf Hitler, Ted Bundy - but who conceptualizes a whole country, let alone a nation like Spain? Similar to admiring comedian Steven Wright's hairstyle, it's a rarity. So why did the United States drop four hydrogen bombs on this commonwealth in 1966?
Refueling a plane in midair sounds more problematic than viewing one's own asshole without a camera or a mirror. This was the case on January 17th, of the aforementioned year, when a U.S. B-52G and a KC-135 tanker collided at 31,000 feet, off Spain's coast. The refueling craft was instantly decimated, after the gasoline aboard ignited.
The bomber tore into pieces, and four of its seven person crew were able to escape.
Hydrogen bombs: Who wouldn't want one, let alone three, landing in their backyard? If you asserted, "The friendly folks of Palomares," you'd be correct.
Palomares - a tiny coastal town of tomato farmers - wouldn't be the same, after a trio of Mk28 thermonuclear devices descended upon it. A fourth ordnance - of the same variety - would find its way into the adjacent ocean, and be lost for almost three months.
Operation Chrome Dome was to blame on this one. During the Cold War, the aforementioned was a U.S. directive responsible for constantly flying live nuclear explosives over unwitting civilians. After all, the best way to protect people is to buzz them with hydrogen bombs.
Chrome Dome flew a number of routes, allegedly to act as a deterrent for potential Soviet attacks on the United States. The flight plan during the Palomares Incident had B-52s traversing the Atlantic Ocean, to the western border of the U.S.S.R., and back to the U.S.A. With such a vast distance to cover, refueling was necessary, and occurred over Spain.
Planes soar; planes crash. Continually flying craft carrying thermonuclear weapons means these bombs may eventually come plummeting back to Earth, and perhaps detonate, murdering millions.
Even though I wasn't alive in 1966, I wouldn't have voted for this suicidal plan. Of course, this is why the United States public was kept largely in the dark regarding details of Operation Chrome Dome.
What happened to "[...] of the people, by the people, for the people [...]"?
The KC-135 that collided with the B-52 flew out of Moron Air Base in Spain. The name of this installation has an accent over the second "O," but who's counting?
The first bomb was recovered mostly intact on a dry riverbed.
Conventional explosives on the second and third detonated, soaking 490 acres in plutonium-239 and radioactive debris.
Desperate, the military scrambled to keep the incident from the media. When the press began swarming, the Air Force and Navy were coerced to admit an accident had occurred, but stifled the phrase "lost nuclear bombs." Unable to withhold they'd misplaced the fourth weapon - perhaps beneath the Mediterranean Sea - the U.S. was forced to concede this nuclear nightmare.
This final device - which settled on a precarious 70 degree declination, 2,550 feet below the surface - was accidentally dropped by salvage crews, and lost a second time, before it was found again at 2,900 feet.
After a drone vessel - normally employed for torpedo reclamation - became tangled in the bomb's parachute, the weapon, along with the recovery craft, was raised to 100 feet below the water line. From there, the bomb was guided aboard the USS Petrel, and deactivated.
Cleanup efforts of Palomares were interesting, as Strategic Air Command (SAC) - which was responsible for the accident - hadn't considered emergencies of this magnitude. Thus, almost every aspect of the search was makeshift.
Toilet paper played a crucial part in recovery, as U.S. soldiers marked debris with the stuff, and rolls of this valued commodity were used to demarcate distances along beaches. Contaminated earth was packed into 4,810 barrels by workers garbed in minimal protective clothing.
To compensate farmers for desecrated crops, the Air Force purchased corrupted tomatoes. Sounds like a gesture of good faith, until one learns the military then fed this poisoned produce to its own pilots. Soldiers were informed alpha radiation - with which they came in contact - could be repelled by nothing more than sheets of paper, and was innocuous. What the military failed to reveal was, when consumed, alpha radiation is often lethal.
In all, it was a joyous, potentially calamitous romp along the Med.
Since plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,110 years, continuous re-dredging of the ground at Palomares will cause this city to be radioactive for hundreds of generations. Scientists continue to downplay the adverse nature of what's occurring there, whilst quietly recommending new cleanup efforts.
Between 2006 and 2007, 71 million square feet of town, and outlying areas, were tested for radiation. Technicians were surprised to discover levels far exceeding what they'd expected. Increased isotope deposits were now yielding americium - a lethal product of plutonium decomposition. The most highly saturated region has been increased from 107,000 square yards to nearly 360,000.
Palomares is currently a popular tourist destination. Condominiums and hotels line the city; there's an adjacent nudist beach; and the village now has its own skyline. The town's agriculture industry flourishes, with greenhouses springing up everywhere. What most travelers to Palomares don't realize is they're venturing to a region contaminated by radioactive fallout, at levels harmful to their health, as well as those of future generations.
List of Places to Visit:
1) Hell. I have a theory it's awesome, and only given bad press by those who want to keep it all to themselves.
2) Wherever naked women reside.
3) Anywhere but Palomares, Simi Valley, Fukushima, etc., etc., etc.