TÁNAISTE AND MINISTER for Defence Micheál Martin is developing proposals on how Ireland’s neutrality “may evolve”. Martin is “developing proposals” to look at defence and how our defensive security policies should evolve.”
It is also reported that Ireland maintains a secret arrangement dating back to the Cold War era allowing the UK to police the country’s airspace and that many US military planes are allowed to land at Shannon.
But could it be that the greatest danger of changing Ireland´s neutrality policy might come from “friends” not enemies (if we actually have such enemies!).
We live in a part of Spain where a “friend” almost exterminated the entire population and continues to poison the locals of a nearby town (many of whom are holiday home owners from UK & Ireland) with radioactivity.
In 2016 a local Spanish historian, Juan Grima, published this book about the appalling nuclear accident at Palomares near Mojacar
In January 1966, a tanker plane and a B-52 bomber collided in the area of Palomares (Almería) when they were refueling in the air.
The B-52 dropped its load of four thermonuclear bombs. One fell in the sea. One hit the groun d but did not break up. Two exploded part of their conventional cargo, spreading over 266 hectares between 8-9 kg of highly radioactive nuclear fuel.
It is thought that had the bombs produced a nuclear , rather than “only” spreading radiocative material, every one within a radius of about 20 km would have been killed instantly – and – as happened at Hiroshima only far far worse – most people in the whole of Spain and the Balearic Islands of Majorca and Ibiza would have died within a few days from radiation.
Despite the attempts of the Spanish and North American governments to minimise it, the Palomares nuclear accident has been the most important globally until Chernobyl (1986).
Contrary to the attempts to minimise its significance, it is one of the darkest and most unknown events of the Franco regime and of our recent Historical Memory, plagued by false myths and legends; an unfinished and deliberately hidden story, of airy banality and ignored relevance.
Given the huge deployment of human and material resources of the USAF in the first months, it would have been easy to clean the area optimally in order to avoid future problems.
But the attitudes and objectives were otherwise.
It was in the (US & Spanish) interest to have the radioactive contamination quickly forgotten.
Many billions of dollars were at stake with tourism and the first nuclear power plants.
It was also a priority of the USA to leave the radiocative conditions as they were as a living laboratory to research the consequences in a rural environment where agricultural crops, wild flora, human beings and livestock coexisted.
That is why extreme risks were assumed for the neighbors by politicians and soldiers from the US and Spain, who in that way impacted and continue to impact the future of the area and its inhabitants.
This book tries to reconstruct and bring together through unpublished documentary evidence and oral history what happened in these first 50 years.
The book tells how Franco did a deal with the USA to get substantial compensation in return for
a) allowing the 40 hectares mentioned to be left contaminated and used as a “laboratory” to study the effects of radiation on animals plants and humans.
b) giving the USA two military bases in Spain – one near Madrid at Torrejon and the second at Rota in Andalusia (from which base, here in Mojacar we are frequently being overflown by fighter planes undergoing intense training).
Obama promised a final clean up but it never happened.
A few weeks ago the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met Joe Biden and asked him to do what was never done – clear up this dreadful mess. But will he do what none of his predecessors would do?
This is from National Geographic Magazine, 18 January 2021
(In 1966) …The Spanish government and its US counterpart launched a disinformation campaign, emphatically denying the possibility that the area was contaminated by radiation.
The most remembered event of this campaign was the joint bathe that took place on March 7, in front of the RTVE cameras, the Minister of Information and Tourism of the Franco regime, Manuel Fraga, and the United States Ambassador to Spain, Angier Biddle Duke.
As reported by the press, the swim took place on Quitapellejos beach, in Palomares, to silence the rumours that were spreading about the danger of the area and that could have negatively affected tourism, the country’s main source of income. .
At the same time, there were rumours that Minister Manuel Fraga and the US ambassador did not take the famous bathe on the beaches of the accident zone, but in Mojácar, 15 kilometres from the site of the accident and in front of the National Parador Hotel of this town.
Here is a more scientific analysis in the national press El Mundo of why the zone remains contaminated with high levels of cancer.
“50 years ago, an American bomber with four hydrogen bombs collided in the air with the fuel supply plane; the bomber caught fire and broke up.
One of the bombs fell harmlessly into the water, another made landfall unexploded, but the other two bombs exploded, conventionally on the ground.
When it broke up, the fragments of radioactive plutonium spread over a few acres of land in the town.
The US military cleared the area for some time, putting dirt in drums that were transported to the US.
However, radioactive debris is not completely cleaned up in this way and some radioactivity remains for a long time where atomic tests have been carried out or nuclear power plants have exploded.
Radioactivity is the emission of three types of radiation, alpha, beta and gamma, from unstable atomic nuclei.
Atomic nuclei are made up of groups of quarks that we call protons and neutrons.
Protons have positive charges and therefore repel each other.
Furthermore, the repulsive force is very large because the distance between them is very small.
When neutrons intervene, a very short-range but attractive force appears, the “strong” force, so that this force compensates for the repulsion between protons and the nuclei of not many protons, they remain united.
As the number of protons increases, more and more neutrons are needed than protons to hold them together.
Thus, in helium, the most stable element in the periodic system, only two neutrons are needed to hold together the two protons that make it up.
But in uranium 238, for 92 protons it takes 146 neutrons to hold the nucleus together.
The electrical and strong forces of nature do not give of themselves to form groups of more than 92 protons that are stable. These elements are created artificially and break up very quickly.
The breaking of the nuclei gives rise to smaller ones and therefore requiring relatively fewer neutrons.
One of the reactions of uranium 235 generates barium and krypton. The sum of the neutrons of these two elements is 233.
There are two neutrons left over from the uranium nucleus, which leave the breaking point of disintegration at very high speeds.
The problem of radioactivity is the number of nuclei in any small volume of matter.
Let’s give an example:
A cube of gold one centimetre on a side weighs 19.30 grams and has about 11 trillion trillion (Spanish, not American) atoms, and therefore gold nuclei.
That’s a lot of cores for a small volume. The rest of the solids have more or less these amounts, within a factor of 10.
The nuclei of atoms have a fixed number of protons corresponding to each chemical element, but a variable number of neutrons.
So, for example, the simplest atom of all, hydrogen, has one proton, but there are three different hydrogen nuclei.
Hydrogen proper, with one proton, Deuterium, with one proton and one neutron, and Tritium, with one proton and two neutrons. All these different nuclei (or atoms with different nuclei) are called isotopes.
Well then, when the nucleus of atoms has a smaller or larger number of neutrons than those corresponding to the balance of electric and strong forces, the nuclei release neutrons, and go to stable states, or disintegrate like uranium 235.
When neutrons are released or disintegrate, particles are emitted, the neutrons themselves, electrons from the decomposition of a neutron into a proton and an electron, helium nuclei, that is, two protons joined to two neutrons, and very short-wavelength electromagnetic radiation, gamma rays.
All these particles and radiation have, relative to their size, a gigantic amount of energy.
Given that inside human cells, genes are atomic chains, the interaction of these particles and gamma radiation with the atoms of DNA molecules can cause changes in chemical configuration, and produce genes, copy able, but different from the originals. Capable of generating malignant tumours, lethal cancers.
This is the problem of radioactivity and radioactive waste. That there are many, that their action occurs even with individual particles or gamma radiation, and that radioactive isotopes take a long time to pass into atoms with stable nuclei.
The time in which a certain quantity of a substance is reduced, by disintegration, to half – is called the half-life period.
The most dangerous radioactive substances for the human being, in the long term, are those that have a half-life period similar to ours of about 100 years.
If instead, the half-life is millions of years, the emission of harmful particles is very slow, there are very few of them. If the half-life is a few hours, the danger is very great near them during those hours but then they disappear from the map.
Why there is this diversity of half-lives is a mystery that science has not yet been able to solve.
If we have 100 atoms of an unstable isotope, why does one suddenly decay and not another? The neutrons inside the nuclei are stable. When they come out, they decay into a proton, an electron, and an antineutrino in about 10 minutes.
What kind of clock does the neutron, or one of its quarks, have to know that it must decay in 10 minutes and not in one or 100?
Particle models are essentially static, time does not enter into them, and yet it is time that interests us.
Hydrogen bombs carry, for their ignition, uranium or plutonium bombs inside, and these two substances are radioactive with dangerous half-lives.
The radioactivity of uranium and plutonium is dangerous because their half-lives are of a human order of magnitude. We don’t know why this is so, but it is a fact.
Since it is a fact, the best thing we can do is stop playing with these things.
For a start, they are useless.
What good was the cold war?
A gigantic destruction of wealth for nothing.
Nuclear power plants provide us with electricity, but it is also provided by wind, photovoltaic and solar thermal, and today it is now possible, in a very simple way, to store that electricity to use it when there is no wind or no sun.
Why play with fire unnecessarily?
If, say, North Korea were to fire a missile with a hydrogen bomb against the US, the chances are that the missile would be shot down in the air, and the US would send 100 missiles to Korea, which would completely destroy Korea.
If Iran in the future attacked Israel with atomic bombs, Israel would do the same.
A good part of Iran would disappear.
Anyway… accidents happen.
Better that when they occur they do it with innocuous things, such as wind turbines or photovoltaic cells, instead of plants like the one in Fukushima, better that when two planes explode in the air, they do it without dropping nuclear bombs, or even better, no dropping bombs, period.
It’s common sense! ”
This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.