"Operation Garbage" has left a peculiar, lingering odor in this West German capital.

"Garbage" is the code-name for an operation in which West German security agents broke into the home of a prominents nuclear physicist and planted a listening device near his desk because he was suspected of "intensive contacts with terrorists and their sympathizers."

On the surface, the situation seemed to present the ultimate nightmare - a small band of terrorist with a scientist-friend who could give access to atomic weapons or material, or provide detailed knowledge of atomic power plants so they could be blown up.

West Germany is particularly sensitive to such thoughts because of a wave of terrorism here several years ago, because some of the most violent terrorist ganga around the world have German members, and because there was in fact a wave of terrorist bombings at three nuclear power plants in France last year.

The trouble with "Operation Garbage," however, is that it apparently failed to turn up evidence for bringing charges against the scientist, the grounds under which the operation was carried out are legally questionable, and the man put under survellance has thus far been denied a request to confront in Parliament those accusing him of wrongdoing.

In an interview today, the nuclear physicist, Klaus Traube, 49, said the air has not cleared because of several factors - his 18-month membership as a teen-ager in the Communist Party of port-war Germany, his bohemian lifestyle, German over-reaction to fear of terrorist, and even Germany's delicate political balance of power these days.

"I'm the last one to defend terrorists," he said. "I want to catch them. The only way to really understand this case against me is to understand hysteria and overreaction of the government about terrorism.

Traube said his case is political and he wants to pursue it publicly instead of through long and costly court procedure. He said that to prove his innocence he wants a confrontation in Parliament with Interior Minister Werner Mainofer, who approved the surveillance, and Ricahrd Meier, headof the internal security agency that is known as the Office for Protection of the Constitution.

Although the case has been described by the government as unique, Traube said he was told that he cannot appear at a scheduled parliamentary debate because "it would set a precedent."

Traube acknowledged that his lifestyle in a suburb of Cologne is rather bohemian, with many artist friends, "but it is not eccentric."

"A liberal man sould live my way in France, Italy and England without raising suspicion," he said, but not in Germany. He noted that security chief Meier had said the scientist's personal circumstances "weren't what they had hoped."

The news magazine Der Spiegel exploded The tarube case before the public last week. For all its complexity, it poses a dilemma between legitimate need for security and individual civil rights.

Actually the case goes back ten years, when Traube first met Inge Hornischer, a left-wing lawyer in Frankfurt. She has serveral radicals for clients and the Interior Ministry alludes to her as a sympathizer with terrorist.

Traube said they met four or five times a year, that they were friends though not "intimate." In July 1975, through his friendship with Hornischer, Traube met Hans-Joachim Klein. Traube said Klein apparently had become Hornischer's boyfriend. At one time, Klein used Traube's home for a few days and also went on vacation with Hornischer and Traube in Yugoslavia in August 1975.

It was after Traube met Klein that Interior Minister Mainhofer approved a cesurity agency proposal to Traube's phone, open his mail and put him under physical surveillance.

Traube, one of West germany's most prominent atomic experts, was manager of the Interatom Co. fast-breeder reactor project. He lost his job in February 1976 as the result of suspision ablut him.

In December 1975, Hans-Joachim Klein was among the band of terrorists who shot their way into the oil ministers' meeting in Vienna, killing three persons and kidnapping several ministers. After that, on New Year's day, agents secretly entered Traube's home to place the bug. There was no court order and there are conflicting reports as to whether Maihofer approved that action before or after it actually was done.

Last week, the Interior Ministry explained that Traube's special position made him one of the few people "capable of unleashing the dangerous potential of nuclear energy to the detriment of the public."

West Germans, many politicans and chancellor Helmut Schmidt have expressed support and understanding for Maihofer's actions. But the support from Schmidt and some others has been cautious.

Interior Ministry officials say there is still suspicion of Traube, although no charges have been brought or evidence dis closed despite months of surveillance.

Traube maintains that in his circle of friends, there were no known terrorists or sympathizers at the time and that only one turned out to be a terrorist - Klein Traube said he never had any "serious discussions with him.

The Interior Ministry said Traube also had contact with Wilfred Boese, a german terrorist killed duringthe Israeli raid on the skyjackers in Uganda last year, and an Iranian extremist. Traube said he never met them.

Some German newspapers have asked why chancellor Schmidt was not told beforehand about the measure being used against Traube.

The legality of surveillance during the summer of 1975, with ministry approval has not been strongly challenged. But the breakin and bugging is viewed by Traube, and others, as illegal. Apparently there was no court order.

Traube argues that maihofer approved the bugging in September 1975, even though it was not carried out until after the vienna raid in December.

Several German newspapers have called for a review of the authority of security agencies to act on their own.