Spain Demands US Clears Earth from 1966 Nuclear Bomb Mishap

February 22nd, 2011 - by admin

Giles Tremlett / The Guardian & El Pais – 2011-02-22 00:38:11

Spain Demands US Clears Earth
From 1966 Nuclear Bomb Mishap

Giles Tremlett / The Guardian

MADRID (January 16, 2011) — Spain is insisting that the United States removes tens of thousands of cubic metres of earth still contaminated by plutonium from unexploded US air force nuclear bombs that accidentally fell in the 1960s.

Spain sent a diplomatic note to the Obama administration shortly before Christmas saying that it was time the earth at Palomares, south-east Spain, containing up to half a tonne of plutonium, was removed “without delay,” according to El País newspaper. [See following story.]

Some 50,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil remains at the site, despite efforts by the US to clear up the mess when four bombs fell near Palomares after a B-52 bomber collided with a refuelling aircraft in 1966.

US authorities initially buried equipment they had used to dig up the land after parts of two of the B28 bombs detonated, spreading plutonium across a wide area.

Spain has nowhere to store the contaminated soil, which will take thousands of years to lose its radioactivity.

Experts say that, by sifting the soil, it could be reduced to 6,000 cubic metres, which would fit onto a single bulk carrier ship. The cost is estimated at some 31 million euros (£26.16 million) .

“Spain believes the data gathered and the studies carried out so far are sufficient for the process of rehabilitation to be carried out without delay, so that the land can be used without restrictions as the people of the area would like,” El País said.

Spanish officials told the newspaper that the US was worried similar demands might be made by other countries where it had carried out nuclear tests.

“Should the US government decide not to help fund a clean-up, we anticipate Spanish government surprise, significant negative publicity, and some negative impact on other areas of our bilateral relationship,” the US embassy in Madrid warned in an April 2009 cable revealed by Wikileaks.

Tests on local people have shown the plutonium has had little impact on the sparse population. The four areas that are still contaminated have been fenced off and no agriculture is permitted.

The Palomares crash was the worst nuclear accident of its time, provoking worries that it would destroy tourism.

US authorities took away some 1,300 cubic metres of contaminated soil at the time, shipping it to the Savannah River nuclear reservation in South Carolina. The casings of two bombs recovered from the accident are displayed at the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, in New Mexico.

Spain Requires US to Clean Palomares “Without Delay “
Rafael Mendez / El Pais

Washington diplomatic replication raises the tone of negotiations – “The only option is that carrying the plutonium, according to government sources

MADRID (January 16, 2011) — The US government requires addressing the cleanliness of Palomares and the transfer of plutonium left in the town of Almeria “without delay.” So says a note verbale sent by the Foreign Office to Washington last Dec. 21. It’s written response to the US on 16 November that, to the surprise of the Spanish Government, was long the decontamination of Palomares. The town kept on the floor half a kilo of plutonium from nuclear incident in 1966.

The Government has begun to raise the tone of his claim within the negotiations held since 2004 with the US to clean Palomares. Then, the Center for Energy and Environmental Research (CIEMAT) began with the Department of Energy (DOE) plan to bury the largest nuclear incident of the Cold War. Occurred on January 17, 1966, when two Air Force planes collided over Palomares American. Fell four nuclear bombs (each carrying between four and five kilos of plutonium), which released two of the load.

In Palomares are four zones with radioactive debris. There are about 50,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil. CIEMAT estimated by sieving the soil can reduce the volume to 6,000 cubic meters, more than two Olympic swimming pools. But Spain has no capacity to store this material, radioactive for thousands of years, and requires that, under the principle of “polluter pays” US takes charge of plutonium.

On 7 July, a Spanish delegation in Washington said they “hoped” the US to pay half of the 31 million is budgeted in the cleanup plan and technical assistance. But above all, explained that “the only option that handles the output of plutonium, since it is an inhabited area. The neighbors are tired of the stigma of the pump and the executive believed to have the right to dispose of land without restrictions.

The requirement to move the plutonium Spanish changed the negotiation. Until then, the DOE and the CIEMAT had worked closely. The cables from the embassy in Madrid obtained by Wikileaks shows that the embassy felt obliged to support the cleanup. In December 2009, former Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos moved the issue to Hillary Clinton in May Zapatero did the same with Vice President Joe Biden.

But in July, when American servicemen were involved in the deal, the negotiations had cooled. In November the American Embassy in Madrid moved the answer affirming that Washington is not entirely clear: in a note “interim” has called for more studies. Key’s time, the US postponed undated cleaning.

Spanish sources claim that the Pentagon fears a precedent. The Department of Defense US has conducted numerous nuclear tests around the world and can receive a cascade of similar claims, when transporting the plutonium from Almería. The US military see no problem in the fenced area indefinitely.

On 14 December there was a coordination meeting of the Spanish and there, according to Francisco Castejon, Ecologists in Action, “was agreed to raise the pressure on the U.S..” “It’s something we have been calling for some time.” Castejon knows Palomares, a researcher at the CIEMAT, the agency inherited the Franco Nuclear Energy Board and since 1966 has measured radiation and has a population analysis.

According to this, “Palomares is now safer than ever, because they know where the pollution and the government has fenced areas.”

On December 21, Foreign sent its response to the US. The full text of two pages and seen by this newspaper, says the diplomatic but firm tone that is no longer time for further analysis: “Spain considers that the data collected and studies conducted to date permit to undertake the rehabilitation process contaminated land without further delay to allow further use without restriction as people expect of the area. ”

To this end, the Executive proposes “a forthcoming meeting in Madrid” to establish a roadmap in which reflects the commitment of both parties in drafting the Plan of Rehabilitation of Palomares and the resulting waste management, “according to the text. The note concludes that “Spain is aware of the possible implications of this problem and the interest on public opinion and trust” in solving the problem “in the spirit of collaboration” between the two countries.

Washington believes it has a legal obligation to pay for the cleanup, according to Wikileaks cables, although he admits that his support until the end was “implicit.” Castejón believes that the US can not claim agreements signed with the Franco regime to avoid liability.

Jesus Caicedo, Mayor of Cuevas del Almanzora (which belongs Palomares) says it has completed its “truce” on the issue and seek a meeting with US ambassador in Madrid.

118 People Have Tested Positive
For Radiation Exposure in 4,717 Medical Tests

El Pais / Translation

MADRID (January Twice a year, residents of Palomares travel to Madrid to undergo voluntary medical tests. The Center for Energy and Environmental Research (CIEMAT) says that has not detected any abnormal incidence of cancer and that plutonium is only problematic if ingested, but is not a substance that is easily dispersed. Since 1966, 4,717 medical tests have been made, in which 118 people have been found with traces of radiation.

In 90 cases, individuals tested positive once; 22 tested positive twice — five for three years and only one gave four times. In total, there have been 153 positive results, representing 3.24% of the analysis. … The government insists there is no risk, especially now that the area is fenced. In 2009, the U.S. stopped paying its share of these studies. …

In 2003, the Executive was prompted to clear the area. On February 20, 2009, CIEMAT and the Ministry of Science concluded a detailed three-dimensional X-ray map of Palomares. The study looked at 63,000 points over 660 hectares. In 41.04 and found traces of plutonium and americium in 41.04 acres. The Executive manages 50 sites of 35 owners.

The analysis found the traces in the trenches in which the US buried the decontamination equipment … an area that was believed to be clean. The study concluded the contamination was unlikely reach the local aquifer. Although the United States had resolved to remove 832 cubic meters of contaminated land along with vegetation and wet soil, evidence of the 45-year-old Palomares incident still survives.

Cable Concerning the Cleanup of the Palomares Coast
El Pais

En 2009 el encargado de negocios de la Embajada, consulta a Washington “¿Está el Gobierno de EEUU considerando pagar al menos parte de la limpieza y llevarse parte del suelo contaminado?”

(November 12, 2010) — In 2009, encargado of negotiations with the Embassy, consulted with Washington, “Is the US government considering paying for memos parte of the cleanup and llevarse parte of its contanimatiion?”

Origin: 09MADRID432
Source: Embassy Madrid
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
DATE 2009-04-30 14:13:00
DE RUEHMD #0432/01 1201413
R 301413Z APR 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L MADRID 000432



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/29/2019

REF: 06 MADRID 2853

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Arnold Chacon for Reasons 1(b) and (d)

Summary and Action Request
1.(C) The GOS has for several months been seeking USG interlocutors to discuss final cleanup of radiation contamination at the Palomares site. In a March 16 diplomatic note, it asked for names of USG officials who would participate in a working group to consider future collaboration on site cleanup. Documents available to post give no indication that the USG has ever formally committed to fund a final cleanup. However, the contamination is the result of a 1966 accident between two US military aircraft.

For over four decades, DOE and its predecessor agency have helped fund GOS health and environmental monitoring, and DOE has helped fund a recently-completed GOS study of remaining contamination. GOS officials have indicated for some years that they expect USG assistance in funding cleanup costs, and they plan to seek disposal of additional contaminated soil in the US.

2.(C) Post believes that an interagency policy decision, likely involving the NSC, is needed on what the USG as a whole should do )- not just what any individual agency is legally obligated to do. Should the USG decide not to help fund a cleanup, we anticipate GOS surprise, significant negative publicity, and some negative impact on other areas of our bilateral relationship. Post recommends that the USG respond positively to the GOS diplomatic note and assure Spanish officials that the USG interagency has the matter under consideration and will respond appropriately. End Summary and Action Request.

3.(U) On January 17, 1966, a USAF B-52 carrying four plutonium-uranium 235 hydrogen bombs from Johnson AFB collided with a USAF KC-135 tanker aircraft based at the Spanish base of Moron during refueling above Spain’s southeastern coast. The collision killed seven of the two planes, 11 airmen and resulted in three bombs falling near the town of Palomares and one in the Mediterranean off the nearby coastal town of Villaricos. The non-nuclear detonation of two of the bombs resulted in the dispersal of plutonium contamination across 558 acres of the Palomares

4.(U) In the following months, DOD and the GOS conducted a cleanup of the affected areas. An estimated 1,400 tons of radioactive soil and vegetation were excavated and sent to the United States for disposal at the Savannah River site in South Carolina. After the cleanup, the GOS expropriated the affected areas and restricted their use. In the February 1966 Hall-Otero Agreement, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) agreed to provide technical assistance to the Spanish Junta de Energia Nuclear in investigating health and safety aspects of the accident.

5.(U) Since then, the USG has assisted GOS monitoring efforts, with DOE (the successor agency to the AEC) and its predecessor agency paying a portion of the costs of annual medical testing of all residents. A 1997 Implementing Agreement between DOE and the GOS scientific research agency CIEMAT outlined health and environmental monitoring cooperation. In Project Annex I to the Implementing Agreement, signed at the same time, DOE committed to pay 25% of CIEMAT’s annual costs for environmental and medical monitoring, up to $300,000, as well as $50,000 for a program review.

Seeking to Finish the Program
6.(SBU) As we understand it, lead agencies in both governments would like to end the program. DOE has spent over $3 million on Palomares in the last decade alone. CIEMAT would like a final cleanup, especially as measurements in 2001 led it to believe that remaining contamination might be more serious than previously believed. Cost may also be a factor in CIEMAT’s eyes; it has said it has about 100 employees working an average of half their time on Palomares issues. In addition, growth in the Palomares area over the last decade has led to pressure from the local government and developers who would like to construct housing on the site, which is near the coast. (Spain,s current housing slump and construction collapse may reduce this pressure in the short term, but CIEMAT remains very interested in a final cleanup.)

7.(SBU) Reftel discusses in detail the events that led to DOE and CIEMAT agreeing on a project to map contamination in the area, the results of which were to be used to recommend a final cleanup plan if needed. In a 2006 Project Annex II and a 2007 Project Annex III to the Implementing Agreement, DOE agreed to contribute $1.983 million to support this project (as well as continued environmental monitoring). In Annex III, DOE committed to help CIEMAT contact the Department of Defense six months before completion of the mapping project.

After a July 2008 DOE visit in which preliminary project
findings were discussed, DOE and CIEMAT agreed to begin
discussions with their respective militaries. As we
understand it, September 2008 conversations between
individuals at DOE and USAF were inconclusive.

In November, CIEMAT sought to contact DOD directly, but was discouraged from doing so. CIEMAT also has discussed with DOE its intent to seek International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) review of the eventual final version of its cleanup plan, which it envisions will include USG input; an IAEA visit is scheduled for June. The cost of the final cleanup will depend upon what is determined to be necessary.

Next Steps ) Interagency Decisions Needed
8.(SBU) The study was completed in December, and the GOS would like to begin talks on a final cleanup plan. In a March 16 diplomatic note, it asked for names of USG officials who would participate in a working group to define responsibilities for cleanup. We understand that Washington agencies are considering how to respond to that note. We
expect that the GOS will ask the USG to fund at least part of
the cleanup costs and dispose of additional contaminated soil in the US. We see at least two issues to be addressed:

1) Which agency within the USG has the lead on the issue?

2) Is the USG willing to consider paying for at least some of the cleanup costs and disposing of additional contaminated soil in the US?

DOE officials have stated to GOS officials that any support
for final cleanup is not a responsibility of DOE but of DOD.
Post is not aware that DOD agrees that it has responsibility.
Post believes that interagency consideration of these
questions, likely with NSC involvement, will be necessary.

No Legal Obligation for Cleanup?
9.(SBU) Post is not aware of any documents indicating that the USG has committed to help fund a final cleanup. (We have seen one reference in a low-value 1969 USG-GOS contract to an assurance by General Wilson ) — we assume Major General Delmar Wilson, who was in charge of initial accident response — that the USG would defray “all expenses caused by the accident,” but the contract contains no information on what this assurance covered.) The Hall-Otero Agreement refers to “a previously contaminated rural area that has been decontaminated in accordance with mutually agreed upon decontamination limits and procedures,” and contains no reference to additional cleanup efforts.

However, it is clear that, as a result of advances in scientific knowledge of what contamination levels are acceptable, further testing, and the preliminary results of the mapping project, additional cleanup is now considered necessary. The 2006 Project Annex II and 2007 Project Annex III state that nothing in them constitutes a commitment by either party to undertake or fund any cleanup activity.

But an Expectation
10.(SBU) CIEMAT has for several years expressed its expectation that the USG will support a final cleanup effort and, more recently, its desire to send additional contaminated soil to the US for disposal. Reftel describes how events in 2005 and 2006 contributed to this expectation of USG support, which we believe has been reinforced by continued contacts over the past two years. Stories in the Spanish press also have contributed to this perception.

What if We Say No?
11.(C) If the USG decides not to engage in this effort, we anticipate a significant negative reaction, from the GOS and from the Spanish public and press. (We expect that the US press, which occasionally writes followup stories, also would be interested.) We assume other areas of our bilateral relationship would be affected, but we do not have a sense for the extent of any reaction. The political and public focus will not be on whether the USG ever explicitly or implicitly made any commitments. Instead, it will be on USG unwillingness to help finish cleaning up contamination caused by US weapons that fell from USAF airplanes.

Post recommends that the USG respond positively to the GOS diplomatic note and assure Spanish officials that the USG interagency has the matter under consideration and will respond appropriately.