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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2007
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Atlas V launch a relief for Decatur

The sigh of relief from Decatur United Launch Alliance employees was almost audible over the roar of an Atlas V when the rocket launched successfully Wednesday. The ULA rocket was not made in Decatur, but ULA officials plan to begin production of the rocket here next year.

The last Atlas V launch, in June, was a partial failure because a leaky valve caused the booster’s upper stage to shut down prematurely and place a pair of classified spacecraft in a lower-than-planned orbit.

The failure made the U.S. government — ULA’s main customer — nervous because its only rocket options are the Delta IV and Atlas V. A failure of Wednesday’s launch would have been a blow to ULA and its dominance of government launches.

Recycling dust

Nucor Corp., already the world’s largest recycler, is adding to its status with a venture in Blytheville, Ark. Nucor’s main recycling effort, of course, is its core business: converting scrap iron into various forms of steel. The venture, Pizo Operating Co., will process electric arc furnace dust from two Nucor steel plants into marketable crude zinc oxide, pig iron and slag.

The new facility will begin production by late 2008. Officials expect it to process 50,000 tons of the dust annually.

Getting raw materials is increasingly a hurdle for Nucor. The company’s scrap-metal costs rose about 18 percent in the second quarter, to $291 a ton from $247 a ton a year earlier. Part of the problem is expanded steel production in China, which is tightening the world market for scrap.

Nucor is dealing with the problem by reducing its reliance on scrap. It announced last week it would increase its production at its mill in Trinidad & Tobago.

The mill processes Brazilian iron ore to make 2 million tons a year of direct reduced iron, a material that is combined with scrap to make steel.

Nucor recently completed a building at its Red Hat Road facility designed to receive the imported material in Decatur by barge.

Dodging polystyrene bullet

Nova Chemicals Corp., which employs 150 in Decatur, recently entered into a joint venture with Ineos, based in England. The Decatur plant is included in the venture, called Ineos Nova. Nova has lost employees in recent years, but despite aggressive restructuring so far has avoided being shut down.

The ink was barely dry on the venture agreement when it announced it would close a Montreal plant that makes polystyrene, the same product made at the Decatur plant. Last year, Nova shut down a polystyrene plant in Virginia.

End products of the Decatur-made polystyrene include foam coffee cups, packing peanuts, insulation and compact disc cases.

Two stars of the Decatur business community, Terry Roche and Sheila Davis, left Nova but managed to stay in Decatur. Roche, past president of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, is at Hargrove & Associates. He was Nova’s plant manager before the restructuring. Davis, vice chairperson of work-force development at the chamber, was management systems coordinator at Nova Chemicals. She took a position with United Launch Alliance.

Contact Eric Fleischauer at eric@decaturdaily.com.

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