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Broken Arrow, Part 3 (of 3):
more about Palomares (including some photographs).

Some Illustration of the Desolate Spaces

Click and spot the fences on high to the left!

View of cemetery site close to reservoirs

View of the Main Entrance to the Cemetery Site Close to the Landmark Reservoirs (Click for Full View).
See the edge of the reservoir to the right (outside the prohibited area) and a portable cabin and a makeshift shed, as well as power lines and a pylon inside the area.

In 2007, over 40 years after the Broken Arrow incident at Palomares it became a news item again when The Guardian published an article on 2 July, "More than 40 years on, Spain revisits a nuclear accident". The report concerned a new large scale study by the Spanish Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) and a national Research Centre on the Environment, Energy and Technology (CIEMAT) of the radioactivity in the area around and in the village.
The outcome of this $200,000 study reported that the contaminated area was three times more than previously thought, even so the area was modest (300,000 square meters) and concluded that there was no health risk. As a precaution it was likely that the NRA would prohibit building or selling produce grown within the radioactive areas. The reason for the new study was concern because of the large scale residential developments nearby [see photo 1, below], and we can confirm, from first hand experience, that apartment complexes and villas have been built in the district at an astounding rate.

  While visiting Palomares in 2008 we found two areas which had been fenced off recently with official signs leaving little doubt that the contained areas were radioactive [photo 2]. What was surprising to us was the close proximity of new buildings [eg photos 3 & 7], active agriculture [eg photos 4, 5 & 11] and reservoirs [photos 6 & 10]. Our enquiries were limited to English-speaking residents due to language limitations but there was a strong British presence. Surprisingly very few of those we spoke to knew exactly where the sites were or indeed that there were two; this suggested a considerable complacency. We found both of the locations but it took an effort despite the short distances away and the fact that they were clearly surrounded by fences and signs. Whether the two sites indicate where the two bombs exploded or perhaps it was just chance that there were two random pockets remaining contaminated we don't know; we estimated the distances between them to be 2.5-3 km. Both contained electrical power, portable cabin(s), antennae, short posts (which we suspect were ventilators, indicating dumping of landfill) [photos 6, 8 & 9] and were enclosed with green chain-link fencing, about 2 m high securely fixed to concreted posts and warning signs were displayed on them. Secure entry was by wide, double, locked gates. We observed the two major locations, the smaller one we call the town site and the other, much larger, the cemetery site.
The site in the town is no more than about three quarters of a km from the central plaza. There is a long, low permanent building inside the compound [photo 7] and there are several fences within the outer fence [photo 3]. The ventilators (or whatever they were) are liberally distributed around. Dwellings are close by [photos 3 & 7] and there is at least one beautiful new looking villa by the fence. The town site is well illustrated in Google Street View. The records call Palomares a village but our personal inclination is to think of it today as more of a town.
The other location is about 1 to 1.5 km from the town centre, about 200 m from the cemetery, abutting two open reservoirs [photo 6 (lower reservoir on right and upper reservoir embankment behind huts)]. This cemetery is small, enclosed with walls and a pair of normally locked gates [photo 4]. The surroundings are cultivated land and plenty of agricultural activity was evident probably no further than 100-200 m away, including a water melon field [photos 4 (taken in June) & 5 (in Sept)] and plastic greenhouses (ubiquitous in Almeria) [photo 11]. In the background, about 1 km away there were cranes confirming the encroachment of a known major development [photo 1] but no way does this do justice to phenomenal rate of growth just beyond. There were similar 'ventilators' as on the town site but additionally other, larger instruments [photos 8 & 9].
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  We were told that before the accident this portion of Spain was neglected under Franco's rule. Subsequently, it was claimed, that Palomares became quite affluent and it is easy to believe that's the case. Historically it was recorded that by 1969 the compensation claims of about 522 residents had been settled by the US and with a 'village' having a population of 1,200 it sounds to us as if virtually all the families were compensated, but we can't know for sure. There are many good quality buildings, a beautiful, modern looking church [photo 12] and the small central square is relatively modern and well appointed. Among the new buildings and apartments, many are quite tasteful although not all. As we said, we felt it to be more of a town than a village and since it is not a beach resort nor has any particular claim to be a centre of special natural beauty as far as we could see, that is quite an achievement.
Anecdotes abound including some serious issues but since we have no way of substantiating them we won't elaborate. There must be people out there who know exactly what has come to pass over the last 40+ years and if anyone can reliably inform us we should be only be too pleased to learn more.

Click on the photographs for an enlarged image
View across the site with cranes in the background
Signs on the Gates of the town site
One of several dwellings in close proximity to the town site
1 Site with cranes beyond
2 Signs on the Gates
3. Near lovely dwellings in town
cemetery and water melon field
Compost spreading  near cemetery
2 reservoirs very close to the cemetery site
4. Cemetery & water melon field
5.Compost spreading by cemetery
6. 1 reservoir on Rt & 2nd at back
A building inside fence and one dwelling outside
cemetery site with instruments
Large device in cemetery site
7. Buildings in & out of town site
8. Cemetery site instruments
9. Large device in cemetery site
Fence beyond upper reservoir (empty)
Greenhouses near cemetery site
Beautiful modern church in Palomares
10. Fence over upper reservoir
11.Greenhouses by cemetery site
12. Beautiful modern church


Go to Part 1 of Broken Arrow

Go to Part 2 of Broken Arrow

By Gordon Shaw

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Page originated: 10 October, 2008.  Last updated: 28 October, 2013