A high-level government panel has given its blessing to the controversial sale of a Silicon Valley technology company to a Japanese firm, industry and government sources said yesterday.

The panel, which is charged with reviewing foreign acquisitions that might impair national security, recommended that President Bush permit the sale of Semi-Gas Systems to Nippon Sanso. Bush has 15 days to study the issue and is likely to take the full time in case new information comes to light, administration sources said.

The Semi-Gas deal had generated contentious debate within the inter-agency panel amid heavy opposition from Sematech, the government-industry concern in Austin, Texas, formed to make the United States more competitive in the manufacture of semiconductors -- the silicon chips at the heart of all things electronic.

"It is a very tough decision. It may be the toughest {case} yet" to be considered by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, said Bradley Larschan, a Washington attorney affiliated with an organization that represents many foreign investors.

Since 1988, the panel has investigated 10 proposals by foreign concerns to acquire U.S. companies. Only one investment -- by a Chinese firm -- was blocked by Bush.

While there were pockets of opposition to the Semi-Gas deal in the Commerce and Defense departments, the major remaining concern rests in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, a senior administration official said. Officials said some of the original opposition melted away with the recent U.S. commitment in trade talks with Japan to block foreign acquisitions only as a last resort.

The sale is the latest in a series of debates revolving around the slippery definition of national security. It pits those who define national defense as involving missiles and tanks against those who take a broader view that national security is ensured only with a strong technology industry that serves both civilian and military customers.

"If you take a broad view of national security, the loss of key technologies to foreign owners has to be a factor that is considered," said Mark Nelson, government relations director for Sematech.

Semi-Gas Systems supplies Sematech -- and an estimated 40 percent of the North American semiconductor manufacturing market -- with high-tech equipment used to purify and distribute toxic and flammable gases. Sematech, which contracts with foreign suppliers only as a last resort, has said it will suffer a six-month setback in its work if the sale goes through.

Nippon Sanso's U.S. holdings include a gas supplier and Thermos, the maker of food and drink containers.