We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is the Palomares Hydrogen Bomb Incident?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 21, 2024
Our promise to you
All The Science is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At All The Science, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The Palomares hydrogen bomb incident is a military accident that occurred on January 17, 1966. A United States bomber aircraft collided with a tanker aircraft during refueling about 6 miles (10 km) over the Mediterranean sea, just off the coast of Spain. This ignited the fuel compartment of the tanker, causing it to explode, killing all four crew members on board. The bomber broke up as well, killing three crew members. Four crew members survived and parachuted to safety. The explosion was so large it was witnessed by the crew of another bomber over a mile away.

The incident became known as the Palomares hydrogen bomb incident because the bomber was carrying four hydrogen bombs, all of which fell near the fishing village of Palomares. Conventional explosives in two of the bombs detonated, contaminating two square kilometers of Spanish soil with radioactive plutonium. Another bomb hit the ground without incident, and the last bomb fell into the Mediterranean sea, prompting a 2 1/2 month long search. Obviously, the United States military did not want the hydrogen bomb to fall into the wrong hands.

The Palomares hydrogen bomb incident obviously became an international fuss soon after it happened, and the United States government worked to clean up the area of contaminated soil, excavating 1,750 tons of soil and disposing it at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina. To show local Spaniards and the international community that the area was free from contamination, Spanish tourism minister Manuel Fraga and US ambassador Angier Biddle Duke swam on the beach off Palomares, in full view of the international media.

But putting an end to the Palomares hydrogen bomb incident required finding the last hydrogen bomb, which was not so easy. Using initial data supplied by Francisco Simó Orts, a local fisherman who saw the bomb enter the water, a mathematical technique called Bayesian search was used to search the sea floor for the bomb. The famous deep-sea oceanographic vessel Alvin was used to search the area. After 2 1/2 months of continuous searching, the bomb was retrieved and brought back to the surface. A photograph of military officials in front of the recovered bomb was subsequently released, the first time that a nuclear weapon was seen in full view of the public.

The Palomares hydrogen bomb incident now goes down in history as one of the foremost anomalous incidents involving nuclear weapons. Another is the Vela incident, when a nuclear explosion of unknown source origin near the South Atlantic Bouvet Island.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By live2shop — On Aug 27, 2011

After the Palomares incident occurred, the U.S. government started the clean up of polluted soil in the town of Palomares, Spain. Workers dug up tons of contaminated soil,and shipped it to a disposal plant in South Carolina.

It was the right thing to do - getting the soil out of Spain, but is there contamination left in South Carolina? I wonder how effective the de-contamination methods were back then.

By Bertie68 — On Aug 27, 2011

I just wonder why on earth the United States was carrying around hydrogen bombs in aircraft. I know it was the cold war with a serious Soviet threat, but I don't believe they should have been taking the risk.

Just think of the costs to human life and property could have occurred if the bombs had gone off. And who knows what kind of world-wide crisis could have been stirred up. It would have been much more than an unfortunate incident.

By everetra — On Aug 26, 2011

@Charred - I am not sure what it takes to detonate hydrogen bombs. Maybe smashing them together in an accident like this is not enough and you may be overstating the possibility of a nuclear explosion. The article did say that the conventional bombs exploded; why the hydrogen bomb didn’t explode, I don’t know.

Nonetheless, if history is any guide, no disaster can usually interrupt the tide of human progress (or regress, if you think nuclear bombs are more bad than good).

Think Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the health impacts of Cold War nuclear testing, major oil spills in the Gulf, etc. Yet the industries behind these disasters still continued on, albeit with renewed emphasis on regulation and safety.

So I would have to guess that even in the worst case scenario, nuclear weapons programs would have continued, regardless of how you feel about them.

By allenJo — On Aug 25, 2011

@Charred - I completely agree with you. I believe that an H bomb catastrophe on the magnitude that you described would have done something else too.

It would have given more firepower, if you will, to the peace activists who have argued for years that the United States should unilaterally disarm all of its nuclear weapons.

I suppose our politicians would have resisted such calls, given that this happened during the Cold War, but still, the political pressure would have been immense.

I think that there would have been riots in the streets of our nation’s capital, and the anti war movement would have gained renewed momentum. This is especially true, I believe, given that during this time the United States was experiencing an escalation of the war in Vietnam.

By Charred — On Aug 25, 2011

While this may have been a very embarrassing public relations nightmare, the obvious worry would have been the possibility of an atomic bomb actually exploding, not simply dropping into the ocean.

The nuclear blasts would have killed off massive numbers of people and the United States would not have recovered by simply doing a cleanup of the area, as they did in this case.

I further imagine that it would have impaired relations between the United States and Spain for many years to come. Let’s all be grateful that this worst case scenario did not take place.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
Learn more
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.