It doesn’t even take a glance at a history book to know that nuclear power is nothing to scoff at. In controlled instances, it’s been the backbone of some of the world’s most devastating moments; in uncontrolled instances, it’s caused disasters with consequences that have lasted for decades. Dealing with those consequences promptly should be the standard, but the real world isn’t quite so accommodating. That’s the case with the United States, Spain, and a recent agreement - one that will ensure a long-delayed cleanup effort.

Palomares is an agricultural town in Andalucia, a southwestern region of Spain.

Unfortunately, it’s known for more than its harvests; back in 1966, a B-52 bomber collided with a tanker plane during a refueling session in mid-air. As a result, two of the four hydrogen bombs the B-52 carried - any one of which proved more powerful than those used on Japan - leaked plutonium-soaked radiation into the area around Palomares.

Despite the incident, the area was never thoroughly cleaned thanks in part to Spanish officials working to keep the site as a popular tourist attraction. It wasn’t until the nineties that the problem resurfaced, when high levels of plutonium isotopes were discovered. The land was appropriated in 2003 by the Spanish government to limit its use, but it still didn’t tend to the core problem: at least 50,000 cubic meters of earth were contaminated.

Tending to the Earth

Even if there wereyears of inaction, plans have been finalized between the United States and Spain for Palomares’ cleanup. Based on an agreement made by secretary of state John Kerry and foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, the intent is to take the contaminated earth and have it shipped to the States, where it can then be stored at a safe and suitable location.

In all likelihood, that means Palomares’ land will make a trip across the ocean and into safe zones in Nevada, since several areas have long since been irradiated by nuclear testing.

There’s still a fair bit of work to be done, even with the deal successfully signed. At a bare minimum, the area needs to be secured, its contaminated soil must be removed, the land needs decontamination, and officials have to sure the health and safety of everyone nearby is preserved.

Given how many years have passed and how widespread the incident’s effects could be, it might take more than a trip or two to cure what ails Palomares. With that in mind, it’s a relief to know that something is being done - even if it is fifty years overdue.

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