Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer clashed with officials of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday, arguing that NRC inspectors were slow in uncovering serious problems at a nuclear power plant 30 miles north of Baltimore before closing it last March.

"If it were a shoeshine parlor, I could accept it," Schaefer told NRC officials during a hearing before members of Maryland's congressional delegation on Capitol Hill.

"Your inspectors either need a retraining program or should be transferred out," Schaefer said.

Thomas E. Murley, NRC director of nuclear reactor regulation, conceded his agency could do more, but said Schaefer's criticism was unwarranted.

"I don't accept that it's NRC's fault," he said. "It's clearly the utility's fault."

The NRC closed the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant, on the Susquehanna River in York County, Pa., after confirming a tip that control room operators were sleeping, playing video games and reading magazines on the job.

In the event of a nuclear accident at the plant, parts of Maryland would fall within the 10-mile emergency zone that would be immediately affected.

Last month, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations issued a study citing continuing "widespread performance problems" that raise questions about the plant's ability to resume operations.

The industry group study also warned that officials of the Philadelphia Electric Co., which operates the plant, have played down or ignored festering management problems over the years.

John H. Austin Jr., president of the utility, resigned this week as part of a major shakeup to respond to mounting criticism of the Peach Bottom nuclear plant.

NRC officials were invited to yesterday's hearing to review steps being taken to guarantee that the problems are resolved before the plant is allowed to resume operations.

But as the meeting wound to a close, Schaefer lashed out at Murley and one of his aides, declaring that "I feel much more concerned than when I came in."

Schaefer charged that the NRC was slow to crack down on Peach Bottom officials, despite a mounting record of nearly 1,500 maintenance operation violations during a three-year period.

He also questioned why NRC inspectors failed to uncover incidents of workers sleeping on the job before an anonymous source tipped them off.

"I think if we don't take a look at the inspectors' reports and find out what happened to the inspectors, and just say the company is all at fault," then the NRC is making a mistake, he said.

Murley said few of the maintenance problems threatened the safety of the plant and that workers understandably were on their best behavior when inspectors were around.