Michael Budney, SWPF, SCGNAC

Savannah River Site manager Michael Budney speaks in Columbia, Thursday. He provided the S.C. Governor's Nuclear Advisory Council a SRS-wide update.

Should all go well, the Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site, designed to process millions of gallons of nuclear waste every year, will be up and running in the March or April timeframe, site manager Michael Budney said Thursday.

A S.C. Governor's Nuclear Advisory Council member had pressed Budney on Thursday for a specific window after he rattled off the tests the SWPF and staff are facing.

The mid-fiscal year 2020 expectation is still ahead of a hard 2021 deadline but represents another slip for the behemoth multibillion-dollar project.

At the National Cleanup Workshop in September, a presentation slide backing Todd Shrader, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management's second in command, stated the SWPF could start up by the end 2019.

Shrader in his remarks, though, was noticeably less committed to that terminus.

Around this time last year, federal project director Pamela Marks told the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board the SWPF would suffer a one-year delay due to equipment replacement.

Replacing hundreds of valve controllers in the facility – deemed suitable by both SWPF contractor Parsons and the Energy Department – cost $5 million, parts, labor and maintenance included, Marks said at the time.

"There's no one who's more disappointed than me that we had this valve issue," Marks later added.

Start-up of the Salt Waste Processing Facility had previously faced an incentivized December 2018 target.

The SWPF is meant to be a liquid-waste workhorse. Once online, it will handle and process millions of gallons of nuclear waste at the Savannah River Site every year – far more than what's being done now. Its spiritual predecessor, the Actinide Removal Process (ARP) and Modular Caustic Side Solvent Extraction Unit (MCU), was recently shuttered after 11 years of work.

Millions of gallons of radioactive waste is stored in aging, underground tanks at the site. It's previously been described as South Carolina's single largest environmental concern.

Budney has previously said the Salt Waste Processing Facility is the key to the entire liquid-waste mission: "In order to accelerate that mission and get it done in a timeframe we'd like … we have to have SWPF."

Construction of the Salt Waste Processing Facility finished in 2016.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin