By Katharine Mieszkowski and Matt Smith
After California regulators refused to allow the U.S. Air Force to label residue from radioactive aircraft instruments as "naturally occurring" - declaring it unsuitable for a Bakersfield-area dump - the military turned to Idaho with the same story.
There, military officials met with success. The Air Force is now sending radioactive waste from Sacramento County's McClellan Air Force Base to a Grand View, Idaho, hazardous waste landfill.
This solution involved a bit of legal semantics rejected in California despite 10 months of Air Force lobbying: The military claimed radium dust left over from glow-in-the-dark aircraft instruments actually was naturally occurring, putting it the same relatively lax regulatory category as mine tailings, according to government memos obtained by California Watch through a public records request.
Larry Morgan, a health physicist with the California Department of Public Health, disagreed with that characterization. Radioactive paint does not "meet the definition" of naturally occurring waste, he wrote in a September 2011 memo.
The Idaho facility's permit allows it to accept materials defined as natural without notifying state regulators, leaving the state's hazardous waste manager in the dark.
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