COLUMBIA ó A plant to help clean up waste at a former nuclear facility in South Carolina is years past its completion deadline and millions of dollars over budget.

The State newspaper reported on Wednesday http://bit.ly/S4hfj6 that the salt waste processing plant at the Savannah River Site was supposed to be done in 2009, but design and materials problems mean that now itís not set to be finished until 2018.

Early estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy placed the projectís cost at $440 million. That cost later was revised to $900 million, but the Energy Department said in November that price tag is now at $1.3 billion.

The 310-square-mile site once produced plutonium and tritium for atomic bombs. Work there is now focused mostly on research and cleaning up contaminated areas.

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 canít be finished until the salt waste processing plant is up and running.

Until that facility opens, the Energy Department 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 U.S. Energy Department.

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 Energy Department 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.

Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com