The Senate moved yesterday toward a compromise on President Carter's controversial plan to kill the plutonium breeder reactor in Clinch River, Tenn., by suggesting a year's construction delay to give the White House time to persuade other countries to delay their use of plutonium.

The compromise came from Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), chairman of the subcommittee on energy research who said last night that he would propose to the 18-member Energy Committee today that it authorize $120 million for Clinch River's construction instead of the $150 million the House passed last week and the $33 million President Carter seeks for Clinch River's cancellation.

"This is the option I favor," Church said in a telephone interview. "It will permit things to move ahead but will not obstruct the President in his negotiating efforts with foreign countries on the future use of plutonium in nuclear power plants."

Church made clear that he was offering the compromise on his own, with little or no help from the White House. He said he felt the best way for the Senate to deal with the $2 billion Clinch River project is delay it one year.

"The $120 million authorization keeps the project alive but sets back the timetable," Church went on. "It permits site preparation but would not break ground for construction until 1978, which would delay the operation of the breeder one year to 1985."

Church said he wanted to postpone the Energy Committee's vote on Clinch River from today to Wednesday so members can hear all the issues and discuss three alternatives. One is the $150 million authorized by the House Science Committee, a second is to reduce it to $95 million and delay Clinch River indefinitely, and the third is to reduce funding to $120 million and delay it one year.

A telephone check of the committee's 18 members found that 11 favor maintaining the Clinch River project, seven are opposed. Besides Church, the key member in favor is Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), chairman of the full committee, who had been described by some committee aides as "on the fence."

Others in favor are Clifford P. Hansen (R-Wyo.), James A. McClure (R-Idaho), Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), Pete V. Domenici (R-N M), Paul Laxult (R-Nev.), Spark M. Matsunaga (D-Hawaii) and Dewey F. Bartlett (R-Okla.).

Described as "for it but on the fence" are J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) and Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.).

From the start, the White House has refrained from lobbying key senators. It was described last night as concentrating on Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), Weicker and Laxalt.

Aides said that HAtfield has been against Clinch River for some time but that Weicker and Laxalt have always been for it.

Still [word illegible] President Carter's drive to [word illegible] River are Lee Metcalf (D-Mont.), James Abourezy (D-S.D.), John Durkin (D-N.H.), Howard M. Metzenbaun, (D-Ohio), Floyd K. Haskell (D-Colo) and Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), Who said yesterday he felt Church had the votes in the full committee to approve Clinch River.