US Drop Atomic Bomb on Spain – Unveiling the Palomares Incident!

June 13, 2024
4 mins read

One incident which still causes controversy to this day is the 1966 Palomares Incident, when US planes accidentally dropped atomic bombs over Palomares, a small fishing town in Spain.

The incident was a potential catastrophe which would have killed millions on the spot, yet it miraculously didn’t result in that. Nevertheless, as much as the authorities of both countries tried to play down the topic at the time, the truth is that the consequences of the plutonium contamination spread in Palomares not only affected its inhabitants, but also extended to the US court, where veterans who were involved in the clean-up have spent years fighting for their rights.

So what happened to Palomares and why is it relevant again? What are the consequences suffered by people actually involved in his unfortunate incident? What about the residents of Palomares? Keep watching to find out!

What Is The Palomares Incident?

The date 17 January 1966 would be remembered forever by people from Almeria, a province in Spain. Everything started when a B-52 Stratofortress Bomber was flying over the Mediterranean fishing town Palomares, while doing a routine refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker, at around 31,000ft in the air. The aircraft were in the middle of Operation Chrome Dome, which took them near the borders of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.


The process went as wrong as it could go, as the Bomber and the Tanker collided in mid-air, igniting the KC-135 fuel while the B-52 broke-up. Several people from both planes died right when the accident occurred, with the only survivors being three out of seven crew members who were in the bomber.

The situation was already a tragedy by then, but it quickly worsened, as the bomber was carrying four hydrogen bombs designated B28. All of these fell around Palomares, with two of them falling in the ocean and the other two around the town, detonating at impact. Even though the explosives were luckily non-nuclear, the radioactive waste was spread in certain areas.


Following the mid-air bomber-tanker accident and the waste of radioactive soil in Palomares, authorities from Spain and the US rushed to take care of it, though everything was very low profile. According to the New York Times, the Spain-based US Army forces were taken to Palomares in secrecy, with most of them now knowing that the mission they were going to be employed on included cleaning up radioactive waste.

According to a report by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, the three-month-long clean-up work included civilians and military personnel. Other reports pointed out that around 1,700 tonnes of the contaminated soil were taken to Southern California, but were forgotten afterwards. As read on the website of the European Parliament, 435 hectares were contaminated with plutonium from the non-nuclear explosions, yet only 3% was cleaned up by the US.


While the clean-up work was still in process, one of the undetonated bombs was recovered and another one remained lost for months, despite the efforts of the US authorities.

However, back on the day of the disaster, a fisherman named Francisco Simó Orts had seen exactly where in the ocean the fourth bomb had dropped, and promised to recover it with just a boat and a fishing net. By that point, the US personnel were running out of options given how their submarines had already failed to locate the bomb.

Francisco, who was later nicknamed ‘Paco the bomb man’, guided the recovery crew to the site where he saw the bomb fall a couple of months before, successfully helping them locate and recover it. It didn’t take long before the national and international press wrote articles about Paco, though the recognition didn’t translate into any sort of monetary compensation for him, as reported by local news sites.

In the end, the quick clean-up work was finished in some secrecy, though inevitably the incident became widely known around the world. When the clean-ups finished, the then-US ambassador in Spain, Angier Biddle Duke, washed himself on a beach in Palomares to demonstrate that the place was safe to be. However, a lot was still to be revealed about the Palomares plutonium incident.


Despite the passing of time, the Palomares incident is far from being forgotten, not only by the inhabitants of the town, but also by people in the US who were directly affected by it.

As reported by The New York Times, many of the American military personnel involved in cleaning and collecting of the radioactive soil from Palomares weren’t appropriately protected, some allegedly touching the contaminated earth with their bare hands. This goes against what was reported by the Air Force, that safety measures were followed by the 1600 people who were employed in the cleaning, and that the radioactive levels weren’t harmful.


Dozens of those now-veterans were eventually diagnosed with a variety of cancers, though it has been a difficult journey for them to be recognized as victims of radioactive exposure.

Regarding the people of Palomares, in 2023, France 24 reported that not much was known about possible victims of radioactive contamination, but they were still affected in other ways. Inhabitants of the town have been affected by expropriations of their land due to contamination, yet the financial compensation wasn’t included. As well, Spanish authorities have allegedly kept most documents related to the incident in total secrecy.

Why Is It Relevant Again?

While the Palomares incident remained a constant worry for those who felt their health affected by it and the town’s inhabitants, the case was almost forgotten for several decades. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Spanish government pressured the US to survey Palomares again in search of contaminated ground, and also requested the funding of a health program offered, but rarely funded, by the American government decades before.


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According to reports, some of the surveyed areas were highly contaminated, leaving no option but to fence the affected areas in 2004. This also led the Spanish government to request a thorough re-cleaning of the land, which was positively received by Joe Biden’s administration, as reported in 2023.

Finally, in 2021, the US came up with a positive resolution in a class-action case in the Court of Appeals for Veterans Affairs, regarding the eligibility of veterans involved in the Palomares incident to get health care benefits, though the case is still active to this day.

With that being said, the Palomares incident is sadly not a thing of the past, but a serious issue that is still affecting those who were involved in it, in some way or another.

Daniel Wanburg

As the Managing Editor at Net Worth Post, I lead a talented team in delivering compelling content on the lives and achievements of influential figures. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for storytelling, I oversee the production of insightful biographies that resonate with our audience. My role involves not only managing the editorial process but also conducting research, crafting engaging narratives, and ensuring the accuracy and quality of our publications.

At NetWorthPost, we strive to provide our readers with in-depth profiles that offer valuable insights into the worlds of business, entertainment, and beyond. Through meticulous research and captivating storytelling, we bring to light the remarkable journeys and successes of individuals who inspire and captivate us.

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