WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary James D. Watkins said Friday that he would reject a federal judge's request that he testify in Ohio on the disputed terms of a $78-million pollution settlement with neighbors of the Fernald nuclear weapons plant.
Watkins said also in an interview that he would present to President Bush within two weeks a plan for restoring the nation's capability to produce a gas needed to make nuclear warheads.
The plan will include a recommendation that three currently idled military reactors in South Carolina be restarted and run for another 15 years to ensure a supply of tritium, a radioactive gas used to boost warheads' explosive power.
At issue in the Fernald settlement is whether the 14,000 area residents who sued the Energy Department, claiming emotional distress and diminished property values as a result of uranium dust releases from the plant, may still sue for contamination cleanup costs.
The department, which owns the plant, said Wednesday that the proposed settlement is intended to preclude any further suits over cleanup. The plant, known as the Feed Materials Production Center, is 18 miles from Cincinnati.