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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: Operation Broken Arrow is military-speak for any situation involving a missing or damaged nuclear weapon. Thirty-five years ago this week that phrase gained urgency when an American B-52 and a KC-135 tanker collided during a refueling operation high above Spain, along the Mediterranean coast. Four hydrogen bombs plummeted toward earth. Three hit farm land near the tiny village of Palomares. Luckily the nuclear warheads did not go off. But one bomb remained missing until a fisherman named Francisco Simo Orts told authorities he saw something plunge into the sea. Using Senor Orts' siting, the U.S. Navy located the five-megaton nuclear device about a mile offshore. The recovery operation lasted 80 days. All in all, 1,600 tons of plutonium contaminated soil were scraped from the farmland near Palomares and sent to the U.S. for containment. So far, no adverse health effects have been identified in villagers, and produce grown in the area does not exceed international radiation standards. By the way, Francisco Simo Orts claimed that since he saw it fall into the sea, ancient mariner laws gave him rights to the bomb. He wanted five million dollars in compensation from the U.S. government. In the end he got a $10,000 reward, and another $4,500 for the use of his boats during the recovery operation. And for this week that's the Living on Earth almanac.

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