1950: Nuclear Facility to be Placed in an Arkansas National Park

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Screen shot 2016-05-16 at 8.02.56 AMMany dismiss the theory that the federal government would place a nuclear facility within a national park. After reading the 1950 newspaper article at left, I am even more convinced there could be such a facility at Cumberland Gap National Park.


The above article is taken from the Hope Star, an Arkansas newspaper, in August of 1950. Congressman Boyd Tackett has indicated that northern Arkansas would get an H-bomb plant. Although there is no formal announcement from the Atomic Energy Commission, Tackett said “his information came from that source.”  Tackett said “the plant would be situated either in the Ouachita National forest or the Ozark National forest.

Tackett said, “Arkansas has been selected as the proper area…because it has the necessary requirements.”

This story echoes the story of the munitions facility I believe was constructed at Cumberland Gap; the experts recommended the best suited place for the plant yet, in the end, their advice was supposedly unheeded.

The following article details the region’s frustration:

“Several months ago it was announced the government would build a large hydrogen bomb plant in the heart of the Ozarks…It was pointed out the plant would be located in the interior of the country, safe from possible attack from either coast. It would not be possible, it was declared, for an enemy plane to penetrate that far into the interior, or to inflict important damage on this important facility.

But the plans have changed, and instead of being located in this comparatively safe region the plant is to be built in the Savannah Valley, only minutes by air from the Atlantic coast. The proposed plant would be an easy target for enemy bombers.” (2)

The author laments  that “politics” were the reason the plant location was changed; the Democratic party needed their southern voter numbers up. The author believes this was a move to win favor with those voters. I vehemently disagree. The likelihood the plant was installed there all along is a reasonable theory.

Just as President Wilson possibly visited a secret munitions facility at Cumberland Gap in 1918, did Truman visit a newly completed nuclear facility hidden in the Ozarks in 1952?

Truman may have visited secret nuclear base in the Ozarks in 1952
President Truman visited the Ozarks in 1952, officially to dedicate two dams. Did he visit a secret nuclear facility in the region as well?(3)


(1)”Tackett says state to get H-bomb plant.” Hope Star, August 26 1950.

(2)”Party must be served.” Terre Haute Star. December 14, 1950.

(3) “Presidential Pathways.” arkansas.com.

The Airplane Room: Deep Under Cumberland Mountain

The following entry was written by a guest author who wishes to be known only as The Mysterious Man from Rose Hill. We’ve decided to name this huge underground cave “The Airplane Room” in memory of his father.

This is a story that was told to me by my father when I was 8 to 10 years old in the late 50’s. It was an exciting story for a young boy and I still have vivid memories of him telling it.

Please understand that everything I’m relating is hearsay as I have no way to verify or corroborate the account. My father was a very truthful person. In fact he would often admonish me as a child to never exaggerate or embellish a story. “If you stretch the facts, then no one will believe you when you do tell the truth,” he said.

Following is a recounting of the story as told by my father, as  I remember it:

The setting is in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee where my father lived with his family. The time is the early 40’s. It was the war years, and my Dad was in his early teens.

One night, Dad and two of his friends decided to go exploring in Gap Cave, known at that time as Cudjo’s Cave. Arriving late at night, after everyone had gone home, they entered the cave and began their exploration to see how far they could travel inside the cave. After making their way through rough terrain, narrow passages, small openings, mud and water for nearly half the night, they were surprised to enter a huge room much larger than anything they could have imagined.

“We were so excited to have made this amazing discovery,” Dad said, “And to think we were the first people to see it.”

I said, “Dad, how did you know that you were the first people to discover it? How did you know no one else had been there?”

He said, “Well, when we first went in that big room, there was water dripping everywhere. The water had puddled on the floor, and on top of the water, minerals had hardened like a thin sheet of ice on a pond. Where we walked, we broke through the crystal, just like breaking though thin ice, and it left our footprints visible. When we first went in, there were no other footprints, so we knew we were the first.

“Dad,” I said, excited, “just how big was this room? How many feet across?!”

“I don’t know exactly,” he said, “we didn’t have anything to measure with, but I know how big a football field is, and you could put several in it.”

“How many?” I asked.

“Well, several, ” he said.

“Dad, could you see all the way across from one side to the other? Was the ceiling high enough to see the walls all the way around?”

“Oh yeah, he said, “it had a high ceiling.”

“How high would you estimate?”

He said, “Well, it was high enough that you could fly an airplane around in it!”

“Dad,” I asked, “could you fly a passenger plane in it?”

“I don’t know about that,” he said, “but there’s plenty of room to fly a small two-seater plane around inside!”

“Could a small plane take off in that room?” I asked.

“No,” he explained, “the floor is not smooth enough. There are big boulders strewn across the floor. We thought that, in time, there must have been an earthquake and part of the ceiling must have fallen.”

“Do you think that room might ever be open to the public?”

“I doubt it,” he said. “It’s too far back in the mountain and too hard to access. Some of the openings are very small.”

“How long were you there exploring?”

“Not too long,” he replied. “It was a long trek to get there, and we had to be out before morning.”

“Dad,” I asked, “did you carve your names and a date, so people would know you were there?”

“No, he said, “we didn’t do that.”

“Dad, if I ever had a chance to explore that cave, is there any way I could know you were there?”

“Well…” he thought, “we did leave one thing behind. We noticed how heavily everything was mineralized, and we wondered how long it would take for the mineralization to occur. We left a coke bottle under a dripping stalactite thinking that we might come back some day.”

“Dad, how did you get inside the cave?”

“Well,” he said, “there are several ways to get in, but that’s a story for another time, and I have a hard day tomorrow. It’s bedtime and we’d better turn in.”

Second Nuclear Reactor Pressure Vessel Missing from Phipps Bend

There are plenty of media accounts of the first reactor pressure vessel’s snail-pace journey to Phipps Bend. There is no photographic evidence the second pressure vessel ever arrived to Phipps Bend.

In April  2015 I published an article about the “Incredible Disappearing Nuclear Reactor” from the Phipps Bend Nuclear Plant in Surgoinsville TN. To recap: in 1980, a 2.3 million pound pressure vessel, the housing in which the nuclear fuel core itself resides, was transported from Knoxville to Phipps Bend over a period of several weeks, the heaviest load ever to travel across Tennessee roads. It took months of preparation to reinforce roads and bridges; when the convoy finally started, roads had to be shut down and power lines lifted for the 100 foot long, 26 foot wide, 30 foot tall load to move through at 3 mph. In other words, you couldn’t miss it.

At some point however, that huge reactor pressure vessel disappeared into thin air.

Now I’ve found a second nuclear reactor pressure vessel that was supposedly transported to Phipps Bend in 1981. It too, is nowhere to be found.

The disconcerting part about the transfer of this second nuclear reactor pressure vessel to Phipps Bend is that there was virtually no media coverage of it. Whereas the first pressure vessel was watched by hundreds of people gathered along the roads, it’s like this one slipped by unnoticed. The first pressure vessel’s voyage was covered in local media: newspaper photos taken, many news articles written, and there was even video coverage.

I’ve found one article about the second pressure vessel in Kingsport’s paper, the Daily News. Here is the June 1981 article in its entirety (click here for link to paper):


Unit 2 on Way

The Reactor Pressure Vessel now en route to Phipps Bend Nuclear plant near Surgoinsville is identical to the one at left, moved the site in 1980. The 92-mile trip by barge and overland for the vessel to be placed in Unit No. 2 of the two-unit nuclear facility began Monday and will take several more days, perhaps another week, to complete.

That’s it. Not even a picture of the event or the RPV itself. To add insult to injury, a photo of the first pressure vessel reactor was used for the story. Note the time of transport, ‘several more days, perhaps another week,’ is a substantially shortened amount of time for the vessel to reach its destination compared to the amount of time it took the first pressure vessel to arrive. Quite simply, it was a ghost when it arrived, and it was a ghost when it left. No photos. No video. Seemingly no eyewitnesses.

One of these pressure vessels were transferred to Dewberry and Davis, who claim they don’t know what happened to it. Below is a link to the only document the TVA FOIA officer could find relating to the sale, disposal or other transfer of the vessel.

1989 Letter: TVA Transfers Nuke Reactor Pressure Vessel to Dewberry and Davis

I will rephrase the original question:

How do you make two, 2.3 million pound nuclear reactor pressure vessels, disappear into thin air?

Update: Chicago Bridge and Iron worker confirms 2nd reactor vessel never shipped to Phipps Bend proving the above newspaper article was disinformation.


The Incredible Disappearing Nuclear Reactor

How do you make a 1150-ton nuclear reactor pressure vessel disappear?

In 1980, the heaviest load in state history crawled through East Tennessee toward the Phipps Bend nuclear plant, a TVA venture located near Surgoinsville. A nuclear reactor pressure vessel so large strengtheners had to be added to the roads and bridges to prevent crumbling and collapse.

The nuke plant never materialized, supposedly due to falling energy prices.

If you were old enough to remember the reactor coming to Hawkins County, chances are you still haven’t forgotten it. Power lines had to be raised up and roads were shut down for the reactor and its entourage. Person after person I’ve talked to vividly remembers the reactor arriving…but no one knows when it left.

Missing documents about Phipps Bend reactor

I sent a Freedom of Information Request to TVA to determine the fate of the reactor pressure vessel. After several weeks, the only document the FOIA officer was able to find was a letter from the Chattanooga TVA office to Chris Umberger of Dewberry and Davis. The letter first noted the original transfer of the reactor (and land surrounding it) from TVA to Phipps Bend Joint Venture; it then went on to indicate PBJV was going to sell the reactor to Dewberry and Davis for scrap.

1989 Letter: TVA Transfers Nuke Reactor Pressure Vessel to Dewberry and Davis

At the least, it is an interesting chain of ownership. The problem is, Dewberry and Davis is not a salvage company  (now known as Dewberry).  They are major players in the military industrial complex.  See “Wright receives President’s medal from the Society of American Military Engineers” -dewberry.com

Mysterious buildings constructed near the reactor

Without any other documentation existing, it is hard to know precisely when Dewberry took possession of the reactor. But we do know that by April of 1990, Claude Cain, a member of the Industrial Board and contractor himself, had begun work on a spec building at Phipps Bend that comprised 50,000 square feet.

To “spec” means building something and speculating that someone looking for real estate will find it desirable and purchase it after it was built. In other words, there was no buyer, there was no interest, yet it was built anyway under the guise it would help attract businesses to the area.

Chris Umberger, of Dewberry and Davis, oversaw this Phipps Bend development project including the spec building built by Cain. Incidentally, Mr. Umberger later went on to work for Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon, Inc., a governmental engineering company based out of none of other than Oak Ridge, Tennessee. From bargewaggoner.com:

As the industry revives nuclear power generation options, we have provided critical studies in support of new nuclear reactor permitting. Barge Waggoner offers a wide array of planning, permitting, design, compliance, and remediation services for new energy facility startups and modifications to existing facilities engaged in coal-fired, hydroelectric, natural gas, solar, and nuclear power generation.

Eight months after the TVA letter was written, Dewberry and Davis secured approval from city council to spec a second 40,000 square foot building at Rogersville Industrial Park, a mere fifteen miles away. (See “Testerman put on school board”)

To sum up, Dewberry, a well-known military engineering company, ends up with possession of the nuclear reactor at Phipps Bend. Almost immediately construction of a massive building with seemingly no purpose begins. Then a few months later, Rogersville City Council approves Dewberry and Davis’ bid to build another massive spec building a few miles away, again, without a buyer.

Al Gore arrives to the Phipps Bend site

Interestingly, a few days before the city council voted their approval on the second mysterious building at Rogersville Industrial Park, Senator Al Gore came to town to hail the development of Phipps Bend. Coincidence? Gore was a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee as well as the Armed Services committee. One of the aspects of defense the Armed Services committee oversaw was nuclear energy and its role in national security. Did Senator Gore come to Hawkins County to look in on the progress of the nuclear reactor’s relocation?  Did Senator Gore come to town to meet with council members and persuade them to put the vote for Dewberry and Davis’ spec building through?  “Senator Gore says Phipps Bend park is a ‘great site’“, Rogersville Review, Thurs. Aug 16, 1990

I have called the actual Phipps Bend Industrial Park. I have called the Hawkins County Sheriff. I have posted messages on the internet asking members of the Hawkins County community to come forward with any information about the missing reactor. I have called the courthouse. I have called environmental health. Each time I have received the same response- no one knows what happened to the 2.3 million pound reactor pressure vessel.

Even Chris Umberger, the Dewberry and Davis project manager at Phipps Bend and the recipient of the TVA letter that indicates his company was to take possession of the reactor, claimed he did not know what happened to the reactor during an April 16th phone interview. (Telephone interview transcript available upon request.)

I submit the U.S. Government utilized the engineering firm of Dewberry and Davis to place the the reactor underground using the spec buildings in Phipps Bend and Rogersville Industrial Park as cover. Once underground, engineers were able use the massive caverns, underground river (it stretches almost the entire length of Cumberland Mountain), and possibly even old mines to move the reactor precisely where they wished. I believe, in the end, the reactor ended up 40 miles away, near Cumberland Gap National Park (but not within the Park itself.) I don’t know how they did it. Perhaps one building was used to modify the reactor to make it more easily transported to the second site. I’m unsure. I just know that reactor pressure vessel has vanished into thin air, leaving behind the biggest elephant in the room for the United States government in 99 years.

Update December 2015: a second reactor pressure vessel is missing from Phipps Bend- find the story here.

Is Cumberland Gap Tunnel Part of a Secret Underground Military Installation?


However, a growing number of us are questioning the federal government’s official reason for building the approximately mile-long tunnel: the highway over the mountain was responsible for an average of 5 deaths a year. This will be safer, they said, and it would allow the park to restore Cumberland Gap Trail to the way it looked when Daniel Boone walked it 200 years ago, they lauded.

It appeared the federal government really cared about us. But one of the first negative impacts the tunnel had was on tourism: Cudjo’s Cave, one of the area’s largest tourist attractions, no longer had a road to bring tourists to visit. Essentially whatever economic impact the impressive cave had on the region was suddenly strangled. Fast forward to today: visits to the cave are strictly regulated and only offered a few times a year. They tell us it’s because of white nose bat syndrome.

Mammoth Cave, in south central Kentucky, illustrates how they control and prevent white nose bat syndrome from spreading while keeping their cave open to the public (taken from the National Park Service’s website about Mammoth Cave at http://www.nps.gov/maca/whitenose.htm):

Significant evidence indicates that humans can and have transmitted the fungus from one cave to another, hastening its spread. While no tours at Mammoth Cave National Park enter areas used by colonies of bats for hibernation, bats do occasionally fly through toured sections of the cave year-round.

On the remote chance that you might come into contact with Geomyces destructans spores during your tour of Mammoth Cave, all participants in Mammoth Cave National Park cave tours will be required to walk the length of an artificial turf mat to remove spores and dirt after exiting the Cave. We also ask for your cooperation by washing your hands and changing clothes and footwear before visiting any other caves or mines.

If Mammoth Cave can take precautions to prevent the spread of this disease without turning the public away then Cumberland Gap National Park has a moral and ethical duty to our community to do the same. Thanks to the federal government the future of coal is looking bleak. To counter that, tourism tops the list of  Southeast Kentucky’s possible revenue generators…but not if the Feds don’t give us our cave back.


Did the federal government remove the road and then begin to use the excuse of white nose bat syndrome to keep the public out of Cudjo’s Cave?

A woman who has spent her life in the surrounding community tells an interesting story about exploring the cave as a child. As a small girl, approximately 50 years ago or so, she and a friend would sneak into the cave to go swimming in the pools of water, which was quite a treat back then. To do this, they would squeeze back behind the stalactites and stalagmites which their small size afforded them. She tells of finding obvious military storage in one of the cavernous rooms: boxes, crates and equipment in a part of the cave that was off limits to the public.

Aside from the cave’s use by troops during the Civil War, this woman’s story is the first indication the U.S. military has had a recent interest in Cudjo’s Cave and Cumberland Mountain. Oak Ridge lies approximately 50 miles southwest in the same mountain chain. This area is littered with hundreds of miles of deep underground coal mines and natural caves. Is it too far a stretch to consider the possibility that Cudjo’s Cave, Cumberland Gap Tunnel and Oak Ridge could be connected?