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U.S. Will Clean Area in Spain Where Hydrogen Bombs Accidentally Fell via The New York Times

Almost 50 years after coming close to possibly provoking a nuclear disaster, the United States on Monday agreed to remove contaminated soil from an area in southern Spain where an American warplane accidentally dropped hydrogen bombs.

The deal, announced on a visit to Spain by Secretary of State John Kerry, follows years of wrangling between the two countries over how to clean up the area around the seaside village of Palomares, over which the accident took place in 1966. The bomber collided with a refueling tanker in midair and dropped four hydrogen bombs, two of which released plutonium into the atmosphere. But no warheads detonated, narrowly averting what could have been an explosion more powerful than the atomic strikes against Japan at the end of World War II.

[…]

But neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. García-Margallo said exactly how much contaminated soil would be sent back, where it would be stored in the United States, or who would pay for the cleanup — some of the issues that have held up a deal until now.

About 5,000 barrels of contaminated earth were shipped to South Carolina from Palomares after the 1966 accident. The United States also provided financial compensation to the region.

But in more recent years, Spanish radioactivity studies found that the initial clearance work had been insufficient, and the Spanish government decided to appropriate the land around Palomares to ensure that it would not be used for real estate projects. A main concern has been that the remaining plutonium was being allowed to degenerate into other radioactive components like americium, which emits gamma rays that travel farther and are hard to block. Spain has insisted that any contaminated soil be sent to the United States, because Spain does not have plants to store it.

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