Fishing for nukes


SPAIN has an important but often forgotten industrial heritage which means important buildings and artefacts slowly crumble into the dust. An area full of historical significance is the region around Bedar. In the past silver, lead, iron and copper were all been mined there with the last mines closing in the 1930s. In the nineteenth century even sleepy El Pinar boasted one of the largest lead mines in Europe.


Anyone entering Garrucha from Mojacar will see the remains of the loading bay near the new roundabout which is the end of the now disused railway line that helped move metal ore from Bedar onto ships for transport to Britain.

It is very difficult to find information yet the area is packed full of relics and one interesting website can be found at

Every Sunday morning in June walking tours are taking place visiting the mines around Bedar. It costs six euros and even includes a sandwich, piece of fruit and a bottle of water. To book visit the website go to the contacto page and put in the numbers of people and the date required. An email will be sent back confirming the booking. The website is only in Spanish but we probably need the practice. Lunch in Bedar is bookable in advance via the website.

There is a help line available on 950 529 106 and the chap who answered cunningly pretended not to speak any English until he realised I was trying to pay him some money.

In July 1838 silver was discovered in El Jaroso Ravine in the Almagrera Mountains between Cuevas de Almanzora and San Juan de los Terreros near the village of Los Lobos. This created a huge silver rush and by 1845 there were over 1700 pits in the area. As the silver ran out other metals such as lead and iron were discovered and the remains of the smelting furnaces on the mountains can be seen silhouetted against the sky.

Luis Siret was the chap that discovered the Bronze Age settlement in Fuente Alamo, he was responsible for many other projects in the area and constructed the goods railway that ran from Herrerias to Villaricos, and he designed the church in Herrerias. The Alianza mine shaft tower still stands watch over the village. Tunnels ran from here right under the mountains. Nearby is Los Rozas were many fine but crumbling Colonial buildings can still be seen as they were  built to house Belgian and French mining engineers including Luis Siret. In Cuevas de Almanzora itself there are many beautiful buildings built in the 19th Century on the proceeds of mineral wealth.

Anyone driving the road from La Herrerias to Villaricos can visit the abandoned village of El Arteal built in the 1950s to house miners and their families in an effort to bring prosperity back to the area by revitalising the mining industry. Mining continued here until about thirty years ago.

Just along the coast from Villaricos is the village of Palomares. On January 17th 1966 Palomares was the site of a nuclear accident caused when a B52 bomber carrying four nuclear warheads collided with a KC-135 air tanker as it attempted to refuel in mid air.

The tanker blew up killing all four crew members and three of the B52s seven crew were also killed as the bomber broke up. Three of the warheads landed on the ground with two setting off the dynamite that normally triggers the nuclear explosion. Luckily this did not happen and the nuclear warheads were destroyed but strong winds ensured that plutonium dust was spread across 260 hectares of farmland. In the clean up operation 1500 m3 of contaminated soil was put into barrels and shipped for deep storage in the USA.

Parts of Palomares are still off limits today as the accident happened only 500M from the village centre. In 2008 near the Palomares Cemetery 2 trenches were found containing 2000m3 of contaminated soil which was illegally dumped by the US Military in the so called clean up operation. This has also now been returned to the USA.

What happened to the fourth bomb? Well the last bomb landed in the sea and a local fisherman called Francisco Simo Orts since nicknamed Paco el de la Bomba saw it enter the water.

Over 20 warships were deployed in the search which lasted some 80 days and in true US Military style the bomb was dropped again whilst attempting to lift it up from the ocean floor. A few weeks later the bomb was safely lifted from the sea and returned to the US.

Shortly after this all flights carrying nuclear warheads were banned from flying over Europe.

In true ghoulish style the fisherman Simo Orts later went to court in New York to claim salvage rights on the value of the bomb he had helped to find. Typically one or two percent of the value is paid out in salvage rights cases and as the US Military themselves valued the bomb at two billion dollars he was awarded an undisclosed sum. He certainly never had to go fishing again.

By Stephen Amore

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