Nuclear waste from Three Mile Island dumped in KY?

The Middlesboro Tanning Company and Yellow Creek

Back in the eighties, a Middlesboro, Kentucky tannery that processed leather hides was under fire as perpetrators of massive pollution in Yellow Creek.

A Middlesboro Daily News article dated April 8, 1990, “Yellow Creek: Microcosm of environmental movement,” states high levels of chromium were found in the creek bed of Yellow Creek in 1987:

A study by a University of Louisville chemist discovered the pockets of chromium, a byproduct of the tannery process that can cause cancer.


Three health studies of  [Yellow] creek residents investigated elevated rates of cancer, leukemia and intestinal problems. (1)

Chromium use in the Middlesboro Tannery began in 1965. Dr. Lorann Stallones research, “Final Report on Cancer Mortality in Bell County 1979-1985” indicates

Two studies performed in the early 1980’s reported waste waters flowing through and being discharged from the [sewage treatment plant] were highly toxic to aquatic life….the actual cause of toxicity was not determined….(13)

The first study (that I can find) that shows deposits of chromium in Yellow Creek occurred in 1984, coincidentally after the Three Mile Island cleanup began:

Settleable solids deposited in Yellow Creek were shown to contain chromium, copper, nickel, lead and zinc. (13)

In defense of the Middlesboro Tanning Co.,

Dirk Anderson, manager of the Middlesboro Tannery Co. , says it ‘has done an excellent job in meeting state and federal guidelines’ and ‘installed the most efficient pretreatment system in the tanning industry today’. (15)

Could the federal government have asked the tannery to accept contaminated water from Three Mile Island under the pretense the tannery’s pretreatment system could handle it? Remember- the tannery’s pretreatment system was designed to deal with chromium in the wastewater. Did officials think it could also “pretreat” the chromium from the contaminated water at Three Mile Island? If so, were Middlesboro officials aware of it as well? Remember, there had never been a nuclear disaster of this proportion before Three Mile Island. I could just imagine the panic, and mistakes that most likely were made.

Or, could the chromium in Yellow Creek possibly have trickled out of Cumberland Mountain from buried nuclear waste? Research carried out by Zachara et al. tells us this very thing occurred at another nuclear facility where waste was being stored, the Hanford nuclear site:

Chromate (hexavalent chromium as CrO42-) is a significant groundwater contaminant at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Hanford Site in southeastern WA.


Chromate in ground water is readily transported through flood deposits…resulting in groundwater contamination plumes…”(2)

Interestingly, there continues to be elevated amounts of chromium in the eastern Kentucky water supply, even after the environmental cleanup of the tannery and Yellow Creek. This is evidenced in the Division of Water’s report, “Potentials for Levels of Arsenic and Chromium in Drinking Water Contribute to the Higher Cancer Rates Found in Eastern Kentucky as Compared to the Rest of the State.”(11)

Sobering data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows elevated levels of chromium in Gap Creek and its tributaries within the town of Cumberland Gap as well as the National Park. See STORET’s data here.

In addition to the the continuing presence of chromium found in the creeks, tributaries and water supply,  a nuclear waste site upstream would explain the sicknesses reported by those living downstream: eerily, they match the same ailments as radiation poisoning.  The National Institutes of Health states:

The bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract are especially sensitive to radiation injury…(3)

The Center for Environmental Health studies continues:

Strong evidence has been recorded of a possible connection between forms of leukemia and exposure to ionizing radiation. …These findings are consistent with the National Research Council’s determination that radiation can cause acute leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia.

In a Los Alamos Science piece, “Low-level radiation: How harmful is it?” author Roger Eckhardt points out

Nearly all tissues and organs of the human body are susceptible to radiation-induced cancer….Leukemia was at one time thought to be the principal type of radiation-induced cancer; however, solid cancers, such as lung, breast, and thyroid cancers, are the more numerous result…(4)

Remember the Department of Defense sponsored lung cancer study?

In 2011, Arnold and her colleagues were awarded a $1.43 million grant by the Department of Defense to study potential environmental reasons — such as trace elements in soil or water — for the high lung cancer rates in Eastern Kentucky.

“We know that tobacco is the number one cause of lung cancer, but that isn’t the only factor causing the high cancer burden for southeastern Kentucky,” Arnold said. “So we started to look for other possible reasons. Could environmental carcinogens play a role?”(12)

A coincidence that cannot be ignored: the timing of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel construction in relation to the Three Mile Island incident.

March 28, 1979– Three Mile Island experiences partial meltdown of Unit 2’s reactor core

October 1979– Although Congress approved the construction of Cumberland Gap Tunnel in 1973, funds were not authorized until October 1979.

July 1980– the first time personnel were able to venture inside the Three Mile Island reactor building.

1981-1985- Officials, with the help of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, must remove the “high (radio)activity level water (HALW) at TMI-2” which “includes approximately 2650 in3 (700,000 gal) of contaminated water in the floor of the Reactor Containment Building (CB) and approximately 340 m3 (90,000 gal) of circulating cooling water that remains in the closed-loop Reactor Primary Coolant System” (14)

October 1985– Five years later, fuel removal from the melted core of Three Mile Island Unit 2 can begin.

December 1985– a 10 foot x 10 foot pilot bore is in progress under Cumberland Mountain in order “to incorporate data” for engineers in charge of the tunnel project.

July 1986– Off-site shipment of reactor core debris from Three Mile Island begins.

December 1986– The pilot bore under Cumberland Gap is complete. We know from previous accounts from engineers this initial 10 x 10 tunnel must have intersected the “maze of limestone caverns” located underneath the area of Cumberland Gap which then would afford endless underground storage for any nuclear waste.

1986-1990– cleanup of the Three Mile Island meltdown continues, yet Cumberland Gap Tunnel engineers indicate in spring 1987 that construction of the main corridors of Cumberland Gap Tunnel will not begin until 1989 (8).    Even more noteworthy is the notice to proceed was issued even later: February of 1991 (see pdf file here). If nuclear, even transuranic waste from TMI-2 was being buried under Cumberland Mountain, the pilot bore permitted access under the mountain to the limestone caverns; this must be why the main tunnel corridors were not started until four years after the initial bore. I am confident the matching dates are more than a coincidence.

August 1993– Processing of radioactive, contaminated water from Three Mile Island is complete. This would include the transuranic sludge that must be disposed. Schmitt et al. states in “Historical Summary of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 Core Debris Transportation Campaign” that

As the cleanup progresses, some waste materials, (e.g., sludges) may be found to be contaminated with transuranics at levels above which commercial low-level [radiation] burial facilities are authorized to accept. Alternatives….could include archiving, R & D evaluation or temporary storage onsite, or at a DOE facility awaiting further processing and/or disposal in a permanent repository offsite. (5) page 234

December 1993–  monitoring of Three Mile Island stored waste begins.
Both main corridors of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel are completed.

*The timeline for the Three Mile Island cleanup can be found at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website here.(9)

What is transuranic waste?

Transuranic waste, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is

Material contaminated with artificially made, radioactive elements, such as neptunium, plutonium, americium, and others—that have atomic numbers higher than uranium…. (6)

The EPA states

Some TRU waste consists of items such as rags, tools, and laboratory equipment contaminated with radioactive materials. Other forms of TRU waste include organic and inorganic residues or even entire enclosed contaminated cases in which radioactive materials were handled…(7)

Transuranic waste is not considered low-level radioactive waste.

Taking Possession of The Nuclear Waste from Three Mile Island

The Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory took possession of the core debris. (5) ch 2, p 2. We know the cleanup contractors and General Public Utilities used evaporative measures to remove as much of the contaminated water as possible.(9)  But we don’t know what happened to the rest of the radioactive waste, especially the more deadly transuranic sludge and materials:

The accident’s radioactive waste was shipped off-site to an appropriate disposal area…(9)

but the NRC doesn’t tell us where.

If Yellow Creek is carrying chromium in its waters from Cumberland Mountain, it can only be coming from the Dark Ridge area:

…the valley of Yellow Creek at the end of Dark Ridge, a spur from the main Cumberland Mountain…(10)

The final piece of evidence I have that supports my theory that southeast Kentucky and Cumberland Gap was sacrificed as a nuclear waste dump is this: the military industrial complex contractor who was put in charge of the Three Mile Island cleanup was none other than Oak Ridge-based and the DOE’s primary contractor, Bechtel Corporation.

Evidence is circumstantial but heavily suggests that the Cumberland Gap region of southeast Kentucky and East Tennessee was a repository for radioactive waste from the Three Mile Island meltdown. The chromium in the creeks: the cancers and sickness… identical to those who have been exposed to radiation in a nuclear setting. Undeniably, the timeline for the Cumberland Gap Tunnel construction matches perfectly with the Three Mile Island cleanup. Then Bechtel, a local, primary contractor for the Department of Energy, becomes responsible for the plant’s cleanup. The pieces of the puzzle fit.

At this point I am pleading for help from the professional community. Scientists, chemists, geologists, doctors…whoever would come to my town and do a comprehensive study of my area to determine if our soaring rates of cancer and connective tissue disease could be related to radiation exposure. The people of southeast Kentucky have been carpetbagged and took advantage of by government entities and conglomerates and corporations for two hundred years.

I have had enough.

These people and their children deserve better. Will you help?

 (1) “Yellow Creek: Microcosm of environmental movement.” Middlesboro Daily News; Wells, Rob: April 8, 1990

(2) “Chromium Speciation and Mobility in a High Level Nuclear Waste Vadose Zone Plume.” Zachara et. al, March 2004

(3) “Radiation Sickness.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

(4) “Low-level radiation: How harmful is it?” Roger Eckhardt, Los Alamos Science, 1981

(5) “Historical Summary of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 Core Debris Transportation Campaign”.  Schmitt, Quinn, and Tyacke, 1993

(6) U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission website

(7) Environmental Protection Agency, Radiation Protection, Transuranic Waste.

(8) “Contracts seen for Cumberland Gap Tunnel.” Kentucky New Era, March 5 1987

(9) “Backgrounder on the Three Mile Accident.” U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission website

(10) 1869-1870 Annual Report. Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company

(11) “Potentials for Levels of Arsenic and Chromium in Drinking Water Contribute to the Higher Cancer Rates Found in Eastern Kentucky as Compared to the Rest of the State.” Commonwealth of Kentucky, Energy and Environmental Protection Cabinet, Department for Environmental Protection and Division of Water. June 2013

(12) “Tracing Lung Cancer in Appalachian Kentucky.” K. Bowman. July 2013, University of Kentucky

(13) “Final Report on Cancer Mortality in Bell County 1979-1985”. Lorann Stallones, PhD. MPH, August 1988

(14) “Evaluation of the Submerged Demineralizer System (SDS) Level Water at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 Nuclear Power Station” Campbell, Collins, King, and Knauer. July 1980

(15) “Yellow Creek: Grassroots environmentalism at work.” Rob Wells, The Times-News, October 5 1990

Cudjo’s Cave, Cumberland Gap Tunnel, and World Events: A Timeline

UPDATED April 11: the date of 1942 added to reflect the Allied forces discovering the Nazis using saltpeter to make heavy water for nuclear bombs in Norway.

1740- Caves in the western portion of Virgina are mined for saltpeter, also known as nitre, a crucial ingredient in gunpowder

1765-1783 and 1812-1815- The American Revolution and War of 1812. The saltpeter caves in Virginia continue to be a valuable source of nitre needed for the war efforts

1815-1860- Consumption of western Virginia nitre increased so much the caves could no longer keep up: the state had to import nitre to satisfy the demand

1861-1865- The Civil War. If nitre production was going to be profitable for Virginia and the Confederacy in the war effort, they had to find more saltpeter caves and invest capital in their development.  The Confederacy established the Nitre Corps (which became the Nitre and Mining Bureau) to this effect. Their efforts were successful; Virginia nitre production easily kept up with the military demands.

NOTE: Because of their deep underground location, the scattered saltpeter caves were valued by the Confederate military, as they proved to be an elusive target for enemy forces. (1. Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy)

1920- Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate TN purchases Cudjo’s Caverns (one of the Virginia saltpeter caves) from private owners, including the caves known as Soldiers Cave and King Solomon’s Cave.

Although originally separate caves, these two caves “were connected by a passageway and a larger main entrance by blasting and tunneling” although the date this connection was accomplished is unknown. We do know the caves remained separate at least as late as 1937. (2. Thacker, 212)

1939- World War II begins

1940- Congress authorizes the acquisition of land in the Cumberland Gap area for Cumberland Gap National Park, only after language is omitted from the Act calling it a “recreational area” (3)

1941- Pearl Harbor attacked, the United States enters WWII

1942-Allied Forces discover a Nazi-occupied Norwegian hydroelectric plant that also makes fertilizer out of saltpeter. They discover the real purpose of this plant: the production of heavy water, an essential component of nuclear weapons.

-the start of the Cold War

-the title to Cudjo’s Cave (also known as Saltpeter Cave) is signed over to the state of Virginia and eventually transferred to the federal Park. Originally, the saltpeter cave was a separate holding within the National Park.

1954- a Masonic lodge, Martin’s Station Lodge No. 188 opens 1000 feet below Cumberland Mountain in Cudjo’s Cave. 345 Masons are present for the conferring of a Master Mason degree. (4)

1955- Although acquired in 1940, the Park was not opened to the public until 15 years later in 1955. (5)

1972- in November, hijackers threaten to crash plane into the Oak Ridge nuclear complex in Tennessee (6)

1973- Congress tells the National Park to construct the tunnels under Cumberland Gap (5)

1990 to 1991-  The Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield) begins, leading to Operation Desert Storm
– Construction of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel begins (5)

1992- the federal government closes Cudjo’s Caverns to the public indefinitely

1996- the Cumberland Gap Tunnel opens. The road to Cudjo’s Cave and over Cumberland Gap is removed soon after.(5)

It is 2015, and only recently did the Park start allowing very limited access to Cudjo’s Cave. See my post here about Cudjo’s Cave.


The federal government has had a keen interest in the saltpeter caves of western Virginia (including Cudjo’s Cave) from the 1700’s. As our government becomes less transparent, it’s hard to ignore the coincidental timing of Congress to act on the development of these caves, the Cumberland Gap area and the Cumberland Gap Tunnel in relation to world events, specifically military conflicts.

Coincidence? Or conspiracy?

1. Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy;

2. Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia; Thacker, Larry. 2007

3. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park; Luckett, William. 1964

4. “York Lodge No. 22 Bulletin”; 2010

5. “Cumberland Gap Tunnel marks fifteenth anniversary”; Simmons, Morgon. 2011

6. “Convicted hijacker  shares story; details 1972 threat to Oak Ridge”; Welsch, Anthony. 2011


The Cumberland Gap Tunnel: One big, fat anomaly

Cargo bays run end to end in Cumberland Gap Tunnel

Cargo bays. A lot of them. Lining the entire length of the tunnel, separating the north and south bound lanes. According to former workers they are rooms, and in these rooms are more doors, leading from one room to the next. It is not a simply a hallway between two ends of a tunnel like you might think.

The ceiling of the southbound side of the tunnel is significantly higher than the north bound side. Is it to accommodate larger military vehicles? Could the tunnel be some kind of “flight deck” or loading zone for fast, efficient loading of arms, even nuclear arms, on military vehicles in times of conflict?

mysterious doors in the tunnel lead deep into cumberland mountain

Little is known about these doors as current employees of the tunnel are forbidden to enter.

Former workers that helped build the tunnel say the door on the right of the northbound lane leads you to the water pouring down inside the mountain that makes up the lake the tunnel is supposedly built over.

The door on the right in the southbound lane leads you to the underground lake itself. This lake has no measurable depth. The former workers weren’t sure of it’s surface area either, for a miner’s headlamp shone across the waters would still not reveal an opposite shore. In other words, it’s big.

Still another door opens to another passage leading into the mountain above the southbound lane in the second story of the tunnel in what I refer to as the administrative section of the tunnel:  the office-and-lobby-type areas behind the big glass windows. No one has any information about this passageway, other than the door is often propped open at night, visible when you are entering the northbound side of the tunnel toward Kentucky.

Other than this information, no one knows how much farther these passageways lead into the mountain, or their ultimate destination.

Extensive security cameras in place designed by former Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists

Ipix is a Tennessee company that makes surveillance cameras capable of projecting 360-degeree panoramic images. This company was founded in Oak Ridge by former scientists from the nuclear laboratory. These scientists’ company initially started working with “recording robots” for use in nuclear plants. But the invention of their PhotoBubbles and 360-degree camera surveillance put them at Cumberland Gap Tunnel, in what they describe as “mission critical imaging”.

IPIX Security is the leading supplier of Full-360 degree video surveillance technology for critical government and commercial security applications.


IPIX Security is a division of IPIX Corporation, a leader in mission critical imaging.

Congressman Wamp called the tunnel a “critical part of our nation’s infrastructure” and the reason why the expensive, high tech cameras were needed. If this is true, then how much more critical are the tunnels located on major interstates like I-40 and I-77?  Yet these tunnels have no security cameras, let alone state-of-the-art cameras invented by nuclear scientists from the Secret City.

Hazmat escorts that seem more for the tunnel’s protection than ours

They make hazardous materials trucks, like gasoline tankers, pull off for private escort when both sides of the tunnel are open and operating normally.

They send the same hazmat trucks through the tunnel with regular traffic when they are working on one side of the tunnel. This destroys the logic that they make hazmat trucks stop for escort for our protection.

Not only do the hazmat truckers have to stop for escort through the tunnel 99% of the time, their records and logs are carefully checked by tunnel personnel while they are waiting.

Trucks that display a hazardous material placard are required to stop at the Cumberland Gap Tunnel inspection lanes. After stopping in the lane, a CGTA operator requests information from the driver such as Trucking Company name and address, DOT #, Truck license #, Truck Order # or bill of lading, origin and destination of goods, and driver’s name and signature. The operator then performs a walk around inspection of the truck and looks for possible hazardous material leaks. Trucks transporting Class 1 Explosives are prohibited and are turned around at the tunnel.


In retrospect, it almost seems like a security checkpoint. For a tunnel on a highway most people in the United States have never even heard of.