Rockdale Operations atomizer now closed

Survived Alcoa smelter shutdown by five years

They aren’t making any kind of metal at Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations any more.

The atomizer—once touted as the world largest atomizer for making powdered aluminum—has been closed, in accordance with the timetable announced in December by the aluminum company.

Jim Hodson, Alcoa spokesman, said the atomizer’s final day of production was Friday, Feb. 21.

Thirty-seven persons have lost their jobs, he said.

Alcoa continues to produce atomized aluminum at its facility in Pocos de Caldas, Brazil.

OFFLINE—The atomizer outlasted the Rockdale Operations smelter by almost five years.

The smelter, with just over 1,000 jobs, shut down in 2008 and 2009.

Initially, company officials said the carbon plant and atomizer would remain in operation, but the carbon plant was closed in December, 2008, even before the final work to close down the smelter.

Hodson said there was no extensive shutdown process involved in taking the atomizer offline.

“It’s not anything like the procedure used to stop production in the pots,” he said. “At the atomizer you can quite literally turn it off.”

HANDFUL—The aluminum powder produced at the atomizer since the smelter shutdown was complete five years ago is quite probably the final product ever to come out of Rockdale Operations.

But it doesn’t mark the end of Alcoa employment at the site, just yet.

Hodson said a handful of Alcoa employees remain at water and wastewater treatment facilities and at reclamation projects in the former Sandow mines.

SHUTTLE—From 1992 to 2011, the Rockdale facility had been the sole supplier of the aluminum powder used to propel U. S. space shuttles.

Ironically, the commander on three shuttle missions,— pilot on a fourth and mission specialist on a fifth—was a Rockdale native.

Ken Cockrell commanded shuttle missions in 2002, 2001 and 1996, piloted a 1995 flight and first flew into space aboard a 1993 mission.

Cockrell is a 1968 graduate of Rockdale High School and won an Alcoa scholarship that year.

PRODUCTION—The Rockdale atomizer opened in 1996 and had been in almost continuous operation.

It was the site of several explosions and fires, including one fatality, during its almost 48 years of operation.

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