Miguel Ángel Criado
More than 40 years after an American nuclear accident contaminated their town, the people of Palomares are still waiting for the U.S. to clean up the mess, said Miguel Ángel Criado. In January 1966, a U.S. B-52 bomber collided with a tanker as it was refueling above the Spanish village, and four nuclear bombs were released. The non-nuclear explosives in two of the bombs detonated, spraying more than 500 acres with toxic plutonium. After the accident, the U.S. transported about 2,000 cubic yards of soil to an American nuclear reservation, and forgot all about the matter. But the town could not.
While adverse health effects have been few, “Palomares is suffering a stigma that’s both social and economic,” says Mayor Juan José Pérez. Despite the region’s historic interest as the site of Europe’s most advanced prehistoric society, Spaniards think of it as a no-go area. So the mayor has proposed building a museum dedicated to the history of the site that would start with the Bronze Age and go right up to the accident, complete with a replica of a B-52. But before anyone will build, a further 8,000 cubic yards of contaminated earth need to be hauled away—and so far the Americans are balking. “They have to do it,” ecologist Igor Parra says. “It’s an exercise in historical justice.”