CONVENT, La. (AP) — Nucor Corp. says it has started production at its direct-reduced iron plant in Convent, the first phase of what could become a $3.4 billion complex employing as many as 1,250 workers.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based company says production began on Tuesday and has been increasing since.

"The quality of material being produced in terms of both metallization and carbon content has improved very quickly. Within the first 24 hours of operation, output quality began matching the best-in-class levels we routinely achieve at our DRI plant that has been operating in Trinidad since 2006," the company statement said.

The Times-Picayune reported ( that Nucor and affiliates are manufacturers of steel products, with operating plants primarily in the United States and Canada.

The Convent site is being developed with public subsidies. Louisiana's incentive package includes a river port terminal, infrastructure assistance, tax breaks and other elements.

In addition to the direct-reduced iron ore plant, Nucor has said it could build a coke plant, blast furnace, pellet plantand steel mill at Convent.

The iron plant suffered a setback during construction in September, when a huge dome storing iron oxide pellets collapsed.