The salt waste processing plant at the Aiken County site was supposed to be done in 2009, but design and materials problems mean that now it’s not set to be finished until 2018, The State reported Wednesday.
Early estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy placed the project’s cost at $440 million. That cost later was revised to $900 million, but the DOE said in November that the price tag is now at $1.3 billion.
If the DOE approves more money to complete the project, the agency still would need congressional approval in the 2014 budget, agency spokesman Jim Giusti said.
The 310-square-mile Savannah River Site once produced plutonium and tritium for atomic bombs.
Work there is now focused mostly on research and cleaning up contaminated areas.
The most dangerous waste at the site sits in 47 aging tanks that are prone to leaks.
Workers are slowly cleaning out and neutralizing that material to reduce its threat to the environment, but that work can’t be finished until the salt waste processing plant is up and running.
Until that facility opens, the DOE is using a temporary processing plant to separate some of the material, but it can handle no more than 1 million gallons a year. The salt-waste processing plant is designed to handle 6 million gallons.
The target date for having the high-level-waste cleaned up is 2027, according to the DOE.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has issued a permit for the salt plant.
In a statement, Director Catherine Templeton said the agency still expects the DOE to open the plant by 2015, as is stated in the permit.
Fines of up to $105,000 a day could be levied for each day the plant is not on schedule, according to DHEC spokesman Mark Plowden.