Five consumer-oriented groups yesterday asked the Senate Energy Committee to hold up its confirmation of John O'Leary as deputy director of the new Department of Energy until his role in a 1973 Nuclear Regulatory Commission action is clarified.

In a letter to Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash), the groups requested he ask the attorney general's office to probe whether O'Leary's "actions or inactions" were in any way responsible for a three month delay in public revelation of a geological fault beneath a nuclear power plant under construction at North Anna, Va.

"The incident has shaken public confidence in the agency as a whole," said the letter which was signed by Friends of the Earth the Union of Concerned Scientists the Natural Resources Defense Council and two groups that are part of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, Critical Mass and Congress Watch.

O'Leary, head of the Federal Energy Administration, was expected to be confirmed today or Friday by the committee in his new post. At the time the North Anna fault was discovered he was director of nuclear reactor regulation at the Atomic Energy Commission which became the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1975.

O'Leary's role in the case came to light in a May 11, 1977, memo by the Justice Department detailing its probe into Virginia Electric and Power Co. (Vepco) actions in keeping secret its knowledge of the fault. The company feared that public disclosure would hold up approval of its construction permit at the time the Justice Department said. Faults are common sites of earthquakes.

O'Leary was among officials informed of the fault at a meeting his office said probably occurred on July 6, 1973, a month before the commission made its knowledge public. There was debate at the meeting over whether to recommend that public hearings be reopened by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board an independent arm of the commission, but a decision was made not to ask for that, the Justice Department memo said.

"All witnesses agree that O'Leary stated that the ASLB (licensing board) should be notified but left it to the others as to how and when to do it," the memo said.

Richard Pollock of Critical Mass said, "we think there are a lot more documents that need to be revealed on this. We're not accusing him (O'Leary) of wrong-doing but that record reveals serious problems in the way the commission operated."

In their letter, the groups said it was "imperative that Mr. O'Leary's name be cleared of any allegations of wrong-doing and the record be clarified for both the committee and the [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]