US to finish cleaning up Spanish site we turned radioactive 49 years ago


Nearly 50 years after a US air force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons crashed in Palomares in south-east Spain, Washington has finally agreed to clean up the radioactive contamination that resulted from the crash.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, signed an agreement in Madrid on Monday to clean up the site and “store the contaminated earth at a suitable location in the United States”…

The Palomares crash was the worst nuclear accident of its time. On 17 January 1966, at the height of the cold war, the B-52 bomber collided with a KC-135 tanker plane during mid-air refuelling off the coast of Almería, Spain, killing seven of the 11 crew members.

The B-52 was carrying four hydrogen bombs more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two were recovered intact from the sea but the others leaked radiation into the surrounding countryside when their plutonium-filled detonators went off, strewing 3kg of highly radioactive plutonium 239 around Palomares.

Shortly after the accident, the US shipped 1,700 tonnes of contaminated earth to South Carolina, after which the incident was largely forgotten. Worries that it would destroy the budding Spanish tourist industry led the minister of tourism under the dictator Gen Franco, Manuel Fraga, to take a much-photographed swim in the sea with the American ambassador to prove that the waters were safe…

Concern over the site was reawakened in the 1990s when tests revealed high levels of americium, an isotope of plutonium, and further tests showed that 50,000 cubic metres of earth were still contaminated. The Spanish government appropriated the land in 2003 to prevent it being used.

Meanwhile, our government made it clear to the people of Spain how much of a priority we assign to cleaning up after the messes made by our military. Actually, we already have a pretty consistent record around the world.

William M. Jenkins dies – 49 years after gang shooting

Samuel Jenkins (L), William Jenkins (R)

On Oct. 21, 1960, as “West Side Story” was playing on Broadway, a real blood feud was playing out at a youth dance and on the streets of Spanish Harlem between two rival gangs called the Viceroys and the Dragons.

About 8 p.m. that night, William M. Jenkins, 18, was shot through the stomach and back, rendering him a paraplegic. He continued his life of crime, however, becoming known to the police as Wheelchair Willie, while two teenage brothers in the Dragons were arrested and imprisoned for shooting him.

“West Side Story” popped up again on Broadway last month, and, 49 years after it happened, so did the case of the Jenkins shooting. After Mr. Jenkins died on March 13 at age 66, the city medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide due to infectious complications caused by the gunshot wounds, making it the oldest reclassified homicide in New York Police Department history.

“I can’t believe this,” one of the brothers, George Lemus, now 64, said after he was told the news Wednesday at the computer repair business he runs in Midtown Manhattan. A little while later, he looked down at his arm. “The hair stood up,” he said, holding out the arm, still fresh with goose bumps.

Mr. Lemus’s brother, Robert, died a decade ago at age 58. The shooting haunted him until his death, said his son, Robert Lemus 3rd: “He lived with a level of remorse for the fact that, at his hands, someone had a handicap his entire life over an evening of probable misunderstanding.”

The district attorney’s office said it would not prosecute because the brothers had already served time (Mr. Lemus said he was imprisoned for a year and half and his brother for five years) for the shooting and because witnesses and medical records would be hard to come by, the police official said.

The victim’s brother, Samuel A. Jenkins, even questioned how his brother’s death could be attributed to long-ago violence rather than the myriad medical problems he endured in his life or the recent acute deterioration of his health.

When asked about the Lemus brothers, he said that his family held no grudge: “Willie forgave them and I forgive them, if they are still alive.”

There’s a lot of history better off forgotten. I know how the man feels.