WIPP president, project manager replaced

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) – The president of southeastern New Mexico’s troubled nuclear waste dump has been demoted as investigations into a truck fire and radiation release near completion.

URS Corp., the company that runs the Waste Isolation Pilot Project for the U.S. Department of Energy, says Farok Sharif has been replaced as head of the Nuclear Waste Partnership.

In a statement Thursday, the company says Bob McQuinn has been named president and project manager. Sharif has been moved to a new job overseeing the program for moving nuclear waste to other locations while WIPP is not operational, and working with other Department of Energy sites to develop plans for the temporary storage of their waste.

WIPP officials are continuing their investigation into a Feb. 14 above-ground radiation leak at the plant, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad. Seventeen workers tested positive for radiation contamination. However, follow-up tests have come back negative.

An underground fire on Feb. 5 sent six workers to the hospital.

Earlier this week, Department of Energy officials announced WIPP workers could go underground as early as this weekend to investigate the cause of the leak. Meanwhile, environmental sampling around the plant is ongoing to ensure there’s no public safety risk.

WIPP stores low-level transuranic waste developed from the nation’s defense labs in salt beds deep underground. Last month’s radiation leak was the first incident of its kind in the plant’s 15-year history.

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