Gerald F. Tape, a nuclear physicist, atomic diplomat and scientific administrator who is also a Montgomery County resident, has been named a cowinner of this year's Enrico Fermi Award, a $100,000 prize that is one of the richest in the worlds of either science or government.

The award, announced last month, is presented by the Department of Energy in honor of Fermi, the Italian emigre physicist who produced the first nuclear chain reaction, and recognizes outstanding achievement in the development, use or control of atomic energy.

"I was certainly overwhelmed when I got the call" notifying him of the award, Tape, 72, said in a recent interview. Past recipients of the 33-year-old award include Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Hyman G. Rickover, as well as five Nobel prize winners.

Tape and Luis W. Alvarez of Berkeley, Calif., a Nobel laureate, each get $100,000 as well as gold medals and presidential citations.

Tape's citation honors him for "a distinguished career in the administration, development and advancement of U.S. and international atomic energy, as well as contributions to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, with special recognition for his integrity."

He will receive the award at an Energy Department ceremony Dec. 15.

Holder of a PhD in physics from the University of Michigan, Tape has served as an administrator of one of the nation's major nuclear science laboratories, as a member of the old Atomic Energy Commission and as a government adviser on science, technology and policy.

From 1973 to 1977 he held the rank of ambassador while serving as U.S. representative to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors compliance with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty that was designed to prevent the spread of weapons technology.

In that job, he said, his responsibilities included assuring other nations that the United States "would indeed behave like a party to the treaty . . . " which embodies technical agreements with political ramifications.

He recalled being involved "rather expressly with negotiations with the Federal Republic of Germany and with the Japanese, trying to assure them that we had their interests at heart . . . "

On the AEC from 1963 to 1969, Tape was responsible for basic nuclear research and was also closely involved with the design, development and manufacture of nuclear weapons, including the development of new delivery systems and improvement of storage safety.

Another of his AEC responsibilities was commercial nuclear power research and development.

As to the future of nuclear power, Tape described himself as "optimistic, in the sense that in due course people will recognize its value."

Right now, he said, conservation and harnessing of alternate energy sources has obviated the need for new electrical generating plants.

But, he added, as time goes on and the need for electricity becomes increasingly urgent, "coal and nuclear will be two major sources" although each entails problems.

He said that with safety now better understood, most people will accept what he described as the slight risk of nuclear power in return for its benefits.

"There are those who will always have . . . an emotional reaction to" nuclear power, he said, but "I think we'll be able to . . . . satisfy the majority of the public."

Tape, a native of Ann Arbor, Mich., received his BA from Eastern Michigan University in 1935. After getting his PhD, he was teaching at Cornell University when the United States entered World War II.

Unlike many other members of the nuclear establishment, (including many Fermi award winners and Fermi, the first winner of the prize, which was named for him after his death in 1956), Tape was not a member of the Manhattan Project, which built the atomic bomb.

Instead, he spent the World War II years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working on one of the other major scientific and technical developments of the period -- radar. "I started in nuclear {physics}, then dropped out of it for four years," he said, adding wryly " . . . wars do strange things to people."

Returning to nuclear physics after the war, he served for 11 years until 1962 as deputy director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. From 1969 to 1973 he was a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee and from 1976 to 1981 he was science adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He was technical adviser to the Defense Science Board and to the National Security Council, and has been chairman since 1982 of an advisory panel for the director of Central Intelligence.

Calling the $100,000 award a surprise, Tape said he had not yet decided how to spend it. But noting the change in law that makes such prizes taxable, he added that his first step will be "to pay the taxes."