Nucor’s La. plant near completion

Nucor Corp. is close to completing its 2.5 million-ton direct reduced iron plant in St. James Parish, which is set to begin operations in late September.

“We expect to begin hot commissioning in August and to start production by the end of September,” Nucor President and Chief Executive Officer John J. Ferriola said during a Thursday conference call with stock analysts and investors.

During construction, equipment is tested independently, according to Nucor. Once construction is completed, the plant is tested as a unit.

Heavy rains in the first two months of the year delayed the $750 million project. Nucor had originally planned for the plant to be running by now.

Ferriola said given the enormous scope of the project, a few glitches are to be expected.

The construction update was part of the company’s second-quarter earnings report. Nucor earned $85.1 million, or 27 cents per share, down from $112.3 million, or 35 cents per share, a year ago.

The plant will make high-purity pellets from iron ore. Nucor will mix the pellets with scrap metal to make steel. The reduced iron plant is the first of several phases in a planned $3.4 billion steel complex that would employ 1,250 people and produce millions of tons of steel each year.

The material-handling equipment includes 4.5 miles of conveyors. A port facility has a mile of Mississippi River frontage and can handle vessels up to 950 feet in length, with cargoes of about 126,500 tons.

Completing the St. James plant, along with a long-term, low-cost natural gas supply will be “a game changer” for Nucor, Ferriola said.

The new plant, at capacity, will be the second-largest in the world. The new plant and an existing facility in Trinidad will put Nucor at the two-thirds mark of the company’s long-term goal: controlling 6 million to 7 million tons of high-quality scrap substitutes.