Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Nucor has a direct iron reduction plant in Convent that produces iron ore pellets that are mixed with scrap metal to make steel.

The Nucor Steel Louisiana plant has been shut down after an equipment failure at the Convent facility happened last week.

No one was injured when the process gas heater had a major failure on Nov. 2. The company said there was no environmental impact or damage done to any part of the direct reduced iron facility. But production has been suspended, and the company does not know how long it will take to make the necessary repairs to the process gas heaters.

Nucor, which did not respond to requests for additional comment, said it will provide an estimate of when the Convent plant will be fully operational once the information is available.

The process gas heaters are necessary for the plant to operate but are not part of the DRI technology. The plant uses natural gas to make high-purity pellets from iron ore. Nucor mixes the pellets with scrap metal to make steel.

This isn’t the first time Nucor has had trouble with the process gas heater. The company said it contributed to production outages in July and September. The July outage went on for three weeks.

When Nucor issued its earnings report in October, the company said it expected the St. James Parish plant would turn a profit in the first quarter of 2015. But this equipment failure has caused the company to back off those projections, and no new profitability estimate can yet be determined.

The company posted an operating loss of more than $45 million at the St. James Parish plant during the third quarter, according to a report issued on Oct. 23. The impact of the current equipment failure is expected to be “somewhat less” than the third quarter loss, Nucor said.

The St. James plant started production in late 2013 and had more than 140 employees on the staff.

The reduced iron plant is the first of several phases in a planned $3.4 billion complex that could employ 1,250 people and produce millions of tons of steel each year.