The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported yesterday it found red and blue birthday cake candles were used to seal a valve at Virginia Electric and Power Company's Surry nuclear plant, radioactive water was dumped into the James River when radiation monitoring gear wasn't working and at least one security guard was caught sleeping on the job.

But the federal regulators said these and a handful of other safety and security violations that turned up in an 11-month investigation of the Surry plant were, "minor" and not important enough to require disciplinary action against Vepco.

"The review and the absence of safety violations indicate that while we may not be perfect, the Surry station was built and is being operated safely," Vepco's Director of Nuclear Operations, William Stewart, said in a press conference at the plant.

Issuing an inch-thick report on the Surry plant, the NRC's regional office in Atlanta said a long investigation produced little evidence to support allegations of widespread safety and security problems at the Vepco reactor.

The NRC dismissed as "unsubstantiated" most of the charges made by two former Surry construction workers who were convicted last year of sabatoging the plant and causing more than $1 million in damage.

The two employes, William Kukyendall and James Merrill Jr., claimed they dumped acid on control rods at the plant to draw attention to lax conditions at the giant power plant.

NRC investigations reported yesterday they studied 46 separate allegations by Kuykendall and Merrill.NRC dismissed 34 of the charges, saying its investigators found no evidence to collaborate them. Six more of the complaints may have been accurate, but did not involve violations of NRC rules or the safe operation of the plant, the agency said.

Stewart said Vepco has "already taken corrective action" on the problems that turned up in the NRC probe. "After such an exhaustive review, you would expect to find some areas with room for improvement," added Stewart.

He said the NRC investigation showed the two former employers -- who face two-year jail terms and are appealing their convictions to the Supreme Court -- are "ignorant" about the plant's operations. The two made the charges against Vepco the day before they went on trial.

NRC investigators spent months interviewing workers at Surry, tracking down dozens of allegations made by the two disgruntled workers and other charges that came up during the probe.

While the investigators were studying charges of sloppy security work at the plant, they caught a guard sleeping on the job. That guard was "disciplined" Vepco said, and the next guard caught sleeping will be fired.

Among the charges studied was an allegation that Vepco cheated when testing valves for leaks by sealing the valves with wax and other substances. The investigators said they found only one instance in which wax, "believed to be birthday candles" was used in a valve.

The NRC regulators confirmed charges that some visitors had been found in the plant without the required security escort, that construction workers did not always follow written proceedures, and some slightly radioactive water leaked out of the plant when monitoring gear was not working. r