The cleaning of the Palomares lands, contaminated with radioactive waste since two nuclear bombs fell in 1966 that released a cloud of plutonium-laden aerosols, will continue to have to wait. The National Court has dismissed this Thursday the contentious-administrative appeal filed by Ecologists in Action in 2017. In a ruling expected for months (and postponed several times), the magistrates conclude that they cannot force the Nuclear Safety Council to close the facilities and contaminated areas of Palomares, as requested by the environmental federation. The sentence has two dissenting votes (of the five magistrates that make up the court), and can be appealed before the Supreme Court.
Half a century of secrets and lies in Palomares
In its claim, Ecologistas en Acción requested that, in application of the Palomares Rehabilitation Plan approved preliminarily by the National Security Council (CSN) in 2010, 50,000 cubic meters of land in Palomares affected by radiation be treated and that the 6,000 cubic meters resulting from cleaning will be temporarily stored in a suitable place, setting a deadline for doing so.
The magistrates reject the claim of the environmentalists due to the lack of competence of the CSN. This administrative body issued the refusal resolution that Ecologists in Action had appealed. Without assessing the reasons for the negative resolution of the CSN, the National Court rejects that the CSN can do what Ecologistas en Acción wants. According to the judges, this body has inspection, advisory and sanctioning functions, but not executive ones. “It is not attributed, in any way, executive or material tasks that allow this Chamber to issue a judgment that forces it to carry out what the appellant intends,” the magistrates point out. Even if he was convicted, the CSN (with an independent personality from the General Administration) could not carry out the eventual sentence.
“Strangely,” say the magistrates, the lawsuit was not filed against the Administration, CIEMAT or Enresa, the public company in charge of collecting, treating, conditioning and storing radioactive waste. ” In addition, the sentence makes Ecologists in Action ugly the confusion as to what they really wanted.
Class and nature of radioactive material: “Not stated”
The sentence contains some statements that even question the existence of radioactive material in Palomares. “There is no evidence or evidence on the class and nature of the radioactive material supposedly deposited in Palomares and to which the Palomares Rehabilitation Project does not refer in detail,” the magistrates point out, and immediately after adding that “nothing is known about the conditions of this supposed storage ”, so it would not be possible to speak of a“ nuclear installation ”that must be dismantled.
“That in 1966 two huge pits of 1,000 and 3,000 m3 were built cannot be taken for granted,” say the judges, questioning Ecologists’ account. However, the magistrates admit that “the CSN Report provided as number Two of the lawsuit speaks on page 2 that there are two ditches in which certain material was deposited, but their location is not well determined, so no pronouncement can claim from this Chamber ”. The judges say that CIEMAT cannot be reproached for inaction “about something that there is no record of whether it exists or under what conditions it exists.”
Two dissenting votes
The court’s decision once again delays the eventual thorough cleaning of the Palomares lands, but it has been achieved to a minimum. Of the five magistrates that make up the chamber, two cast a particular vote in favor of the CSN completing the work within a “reasonable” period. They understand that it is the only competent body in matters of nuclear safety and radiological protection, to which corresponds “the impulse of the completion of the rehabilitation project”.
In addition, the sentence contains a key that opens the door to a new attempt. Against the criterion of the State attorney, the National Court highlights, in one of the grounds, that it is competent to rule on the execution of the Rehabilitation Plan. The magistrates admit that “apparently” that plan has not been fulfilled and that the deadlines it sets “have been exceeded widely.” Even though it is a provisional plan, the Chamber says that it could rule on its execution, if the CSN had powers to execute it or the lawsuit had been directed against whoever has them.
The sentence of the National Court had been awaited for months. In principle, it should have been dictated at the beginning of 2020, but Ecologists in Action requested the declassification (with conditions) of the Rehabilitation Plan, which forced the speakers to request it from the Government. It was a historic decision, since that document has remained in absolute secrecy for eleven years. The Government has always claimed that its public knowledge would put into play “political, social, economic and commercial interests of Spain and, particularly, diplomatic relations with the United States”, according to an agreement of the Council of Ministers of October 15, 2010.
After the partial declassification, the sentence was scheduled for April. Afterwards, the voting date and ruling were set on June 1, but the magistrates deliberated until June 15.
Rehabilitation Plan: “It must be faced as soon as possible”
The rejection of the National Court leaves in limbo the claim that, more than half a century after the accident between two United States planes, one of them loaded with four nuclear bombs, some entity would assume the cleaning of the plutonium-contaminated lands. In the absence of a definitive agreement with the US administration, Ecologistas en Acción asked Spain to do so as soon as possible.
According to Ecologists in Action, time is vital, because plutonium undergoes a degradation process that transforms it into americium, which emits powerful gamma radiation. The Rehabilitation Plan, the conclusions of which are partially revealed in this judgment, support the hypothesis. “In the final considerations section it is explained how, due to the isotope release deadlines, the Plan must be addressed as soon as possible,” the judges say. However, the plan conditions it to the existence of a definitive destination, something that has not yet been closed with the United States.
Following the accident, the United States Army undertook an insufficient cleanup. They took only 1,000 cubic meters of land, and the rest was covered or left as it was. The movements of earth for the construction, the agricultural tasks or the fauna have released radioactive particles during all these years into the air that the inhabitants of Palomares breathe.