Politics

Supreme Court turns away veterans in case over 1966 hydrogen bomb accident

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal on behalf of some U.S. veterans who want disability benefits because they were exposed to radiation while responding to a Cold War-era hydrogen bomb accident in Spain.

The justices not did comment in turning away an appeal from Victor Skaar, an Air Force veteran in his mid-80s.

Skaar, of Nixa, Missouri, filed class-action claims seeking benefits for him and others who say they became ill from exposure to radiation during the recovery and cleanup of the undetonated bombs at the accident site in Palomares, a village in southern Spain, in 1966.

A federal appeals court rejected the class-action claims. The Supreme Court’s action leaves that ruling in place.

The Justice Department, arguing against high-court review, noted that Congress last year enacted legislation that expands eligibility for benefits for many Palomares veterans. But the department also acknowledged that Skaar is not covered by the legislation.

Skaar’s lawyers told the Supreme Court that he suffers from leukopenia, described as a condition that can be caused by exposure to radiation. Skaar also has had skin cancer, now in remission, the lawyers wrote in a court filing.

He was among 1,400 U.S. service members who were sent to Palomares to help clean up what has been called the worst radiation accident in U.S. history.

On Jan. 17, 1966, a U.S. B-52 bomber and a refueling plane crashed into each other during a refueling operation in the skies above Palomares, killing seven of 11 crew members but no one on the ground. At the time, the U.S. was keeping nuclear-armed warplanes in the air near the border with the Soviet Union.

The midair collision resulted in the release of four U.S. hydrogen bombs. None of the bombs exploded, but the plutonium-filled detonators on two went off, scattering 7 pounds (3 kilograms) of highly radioactive plutonium 239 across the landscape.

The incident was one of the scariest of the Cold War.  

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