Descontaminación de Palomares

Cable sobre el pago de los costes de limpieza de Palomares

En 2009 el encargado de negocios de la Embajada, consulta a Washington "¿Está el Gobierno de EEUU considerando pagar al menos parte de la limpieza y llevarse parte del suelo contaminado?"

Date:2009-04-30 14:13:00
Source:Embassy Madrid

DE RUEHMD #0432/01 1201413
R 301413Z APR 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L MADRID 000432



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/29/2019

REF: 06 MADRID 2853

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Arnold Chacon for Reasons 1(b) and (d)

Summary and Action Request
1.(C) The GOS has for several months been seeking USG
interlocutors to discuss final cleanup of radiation
contamination at the Palomares site. In a March 16
diplomatic note, it asked for names of USG officials who
would participate in a working group to consider future
collaboration on site cleanup. Documents available to post
give no indication that the USG has ever formally committed
to fund a final cleanup. However, the contamination is the
result of a 1966 accident between two U.S. military aircraft.
For over four decades, DOE and its predecessor agency have
helped fund GOS health and environmental monitoring, and DOE
has helped fund a recently-completed GOS study of remaining
contamination. GOS officials have indicated for some years
that they expect USG assistance in funding cleanup costs, and
they plan to seek disposal of additional contaminated soil in
the U.S.

2.(C) Post believes that an interagency policy decision,
likely involving the NSC, is needed on what the USG as a
whole should do )- not just what any individual agency is
legally obligated to do. Should the USG decide not to help
fund a cleanup, we anticipate GOS surprise, significant
negative publicity, and some negative impact on other areas
of our bilateral relationship. Post recommends that the USG
respond positively to the GOS diplomatic note and assure
Spanish officials that the USG interagency has the matter
under consideration and will respond appropriately. End
Summary and Action Request.

3.(U) On January 17, 1966, a USAF B-52 carrying four
plutonium-uranium 235 hydrogen bombs from Johnson AFB
collided with a USAF KC-135 tanker aircraft based at the
Spanish base of Moron during refueling above Spain,s
southeastern coast. The collision killed seven of the two
planes, 11 airmen and resulted in three bombs falling near
the town of Palomares and one in the Mediterranean off the
nearby coastal town of Villaricos. The non-nuclear
detonation of two of the bombs resulted in the dispersal of
plutonium contamination across 558 acres of the Palomares

4.(U) In the following months, DOD and the GOS conducted a
cleanup of the affected areas. An estimated 1,400 tons of
radioactive soil and vegetation were excavated and sent to
the United States for disposal at the Savannah River site in
South Carolina. After the cleanup, the GOS expropriated the
affected areas and restricted their use. In the February
1966 Hall-Otero Agreement, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
(AEC) agreed to provide technical assistance to the Spanish
Junta de Energia Nuclear in investigating health and safety
aspects of the accident.

5.(U) Since then, the USG has assisted GOS monitoring
efforts, with DOE (the successor agency to the AEC) and its
predecessor agency paying a portion of the costs of annual
medical testing of all residents. A 1997 Implementing
Agreement between DOE and the GOS scientific research agency
CIEMAT outlined health and environmental monitoring
cooperation. In Project Annex I to the Implementing
Agreement, signed at the same time, DOE committed to pay 25%
of CIEMAT,s annual costs for environmental and medical
monitoring, up to $300,000, as well as $50,000 for a program

Seeking to Finish the Program
6.(SBU) As we understand it, lead agencies in both
governments would like to end the program. DOE has spent
over $3 million on Palomares in the last decade alone.
CIEMAT would like a final cleanup, especially as measurements
in 2001 led it to believe that remaining contamination might
be more serious than previously believed. Cost may also be a
factor in CIEMAT,s eyes; it has said it has about 100
employees working an average of half their time on Palomares
issues. In addition, growth in the Palomares area over the
last decade has led to pressure from the local government and

developers who would like to construct housing on the site,
which is near the coast. (Spain,s current housing slump and
construction collapse may reduce this pressure in the short
term, but CIEMAT remains very interested in a final cleanup.)

7.(SBU) Reftel discusses in detail the events that led to DOE
and CIEMAT agreeing on a project to map contamination in the
area, the results of which were to be used to recommend a
final cleanup plan if needed. In a 2006 Project Annex II and
a 2007 Project Annex III to the Implementing Agreement, DOE
agreed to contribute $1.983 million to support this project
(as well as continued environmental monitoring). In Annex
III, DOE committed to help CIEMAT contact the Department of
Defense six months before completion of the mapping project.
After a July 2008 DOE visit in which preliminary project
findings were discussed, DOE and CIEMAT agreed to begin
discussions with their respective militaries. As we
understand it, September 2008 conversations between
individuals at DOE and USAF were inconclusive. In November,
CIEMAT sought to contact DOD directly, but was discouraged
from doing so. CIEMAT also has discussed with DOE its intent
to seek International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) review
of the eventual final version of its cleanup plan, which it
envisions will include USG input; an IAEA visit is scheduled
for June. The cost of the final cleanup will depend upon
what is determined to be necessary.

Next Steps ) Interagency Decisions Needed
8.(SBU) The study was completed in December, and the GOS
would like to begin talks on a final cleanup plan. In a
March 16 diplomatic note, it asked for names of USG officials
who would participate in a working group to define
responsibilities for cleanup. We understand that Washington
agencies are considering how to respond to that note. We
expect that the GOS will ask the USG to fund at least part of
the cleanup costs and dispose of additional contaminated soil
in the U.S. We see at least two issues to be addressed:

1) Which agency within the USG has the lead on the issue?

2) Is the USG willing to consider paying for at least some of
the cleanup costs and disposing of additional contaminated
soil in the U.S.?

DOE officials have stated to GOS officials that any support
for final cleanup is not a responsibility of DOE but of DOD.
Post is not aware that DOD agrees that it has responsibility.
Post believes that interagency consideration of these
questions, likely with NSC involvement, will be necessary.

No Legal Obligation for Cleanup?
9.(SBU) Post is not aware of any documents indicating that
the USG has committed to help fund a final cleanup. (We have
seen one reference in a low-value 1969 USG-GOS contract to an
assurance by General Wilson )- we assume Major General
Delmar Wilson, who was in charge of initial accident response
-- that the USG would defray &all expenses caused by the
accident,8 but the contract contains no information on what
this assurance covered.) The Hall-Otero Agreement refers to
&a previously contaminated rural area that has been
decontaminated in accordance with mutually agreed upon
decontamination limits and procedures,8 and contains no
reference to additional cleanup efforts. However, it is
clear that, as a result of advances in scientific knowledge
of what contamination levels are acceptable, further testing,
and the preliminary results of the mapping project,
additional cleanup is now considered necessary. The 2006
Project Annex II and 2007 Project Annex III state that
nothing in them constitutes a commitment by either party to
undertake or fund any cleanup activity.

But an Expectation
10.(SBU) CIEMAT has for several years expressed its
expectation that the USG will support a final cleanup effort
and, more recently, its desire to send additional
contaminated soil to the U.S. for disposal. Reftel describes
how events in 2005 and 2006 contributed to this expectation
of USG support, which we believe has been reinforced by
continued contacts over the past two years. Stories in the
Spanish press also have contributed to this perception.

What if We Say No?
11.(C) If the USG decides not to engage in this effort, we
anticipate a significant negative reaction, from the GOS and
from the Spanish public and press. (We expect that the U.S.
press, which occasionally writes followup stories, also would
be interested.) We assume other areas of our bilateral
relationship would be affected, but we do not have a sense
for the extent of any reaction. The political and public
focus will not be on whether the USG ever explicitly or
implicitly made any commitments. Instead, it will be on USG
unwillingness to help finish cleaning up contamination caused
by U.S. weapons that fell from USAF airplanes. Post
recommends that the USG respond positively to the GOS
diplomatic note and assure Spanish officials that the USG
interagency has the matter under consideration and will
respond appropriately.
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