[WORD ILLEGIBLE] Academy of Sciences [WORD ILLEGIBLE] over a controversial government study of whether a 1957 nuclear [WORD ILLEGIBLE] test caused a significant number of leukemia cases among 3,100 soldiers and civilian participants.

At issue is whether it can be shown that low levels of radiation considered 20 years ago to be safe actually were dangerous - and perhaps cancer-inducing.

Preliminary studies on fewer than 500 soldier participants in the test called "Smokey" turned up six leukemia cases. Leukemia, a cancer of the blood that has been closely related to radiation exposure, generally occurs in almost 1 in 1,000 persons.

Dr. Glyn Caldwell of the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control, who has handled the inquiry to now, said yesterday that the six cases were "on the borderline" of proving a significant relationship.

The Aug. 31, 1957, test exploded a 44-kiloton device on a 700-foot tower. Some 1,000 GIs maneuvered in the vicinity of ground zero within three hours of the explosion. The weapon was three times more powerful than the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

One purpose of the troop exercise, according to press releases at the time and an Army post-test report, was to publicize the role of the foot soldier in the age of atomic warfare.

The Army made a 30-minute film and it was distributed to more than 300 television-stations around the country.

In the 20 years since Smokey, the Army's concept of what is safe on a nuclear battlefield has changed. In recent statements promoting its new neutron warheads, pentagon officials have stressed that only with a neutron weapon could soldiers advance within six hours to the site of a nuclear explosion.

Present weapons - of the type detonated at Smokey - they now say would cause radiation dangerous for days or weeks.

Caldwell wants to hasten the search for the persons who were at Smokey because if there is an increased danger to them because of radiation exposure," we should show the risk."

In his study to date, Caldwell has also found three or four additional leukemia cases among soldiers who participated in other 1957 nuclear test - but not Smokey. He also has found another leukemia victim who was a civilian employee at the Nevada test site and witnessed Smokey and several other tests.

Officials at the Pentagon and the Department of Energy, which runs nuclear testing, have looked on the Smokey leukemia cases to date as more of "mathematical fluke," as one put it yesterday.

Veterans Administration officials also have an interest in Smokey. At least one of the leukemia victims, Donald E. Coe of Tomkinsville, Ky., is pressing the VA for additional benefits, saying his illness is sevice-connected.

Coe, who is a terminal cancer case, enlisted Rep. Tim Lee Carter (R-Ky.) in his cause. Carter, a medical doctor has in turn pressed for a congressional inquiry.

The move to a long-term study by the National Research Council of the Academy of Sciences was undertaken "because of public pressure" according to a council official, and the need for research by "people less associated in the program."

The Army and other agencies were "dragging their feet" because "it looked like they had done something wrong 20 years ago," this official said.

The Army has traced where most of the maneuvering soldiers were during the test.

Coe, for example, was among some 500 troops who marched into the area nearest ground zero. But Army officials say Coe's film badge, which recorded radiation exposure to gamma and beta rays, was well below safe levels.

Another leukemia victim, Paul C. Cooper, was and observer at Smokey, according to the Army. Two days later, however, Cooper - according to Army records - may have been in a military unit that marched near the Smokey detonation tower during another test. The tower was still "hot," according to the spokesman.

Two other Smokey leukemia cases - now deceased - were placed with an observer group eight miles from the shot.

The final two leukemia cases - also now dead - were said to have been with support troops at a nearby camp.

Although it was agreed to go to the academy for the study on Dec. 1, as of Friday the Pentagon had still formally to request the research as required by law.

According to a Pentagon official, the delay was necessary to get agreement among various government departments on funding the project. The Defense Nuclear Agency, he said, would act as a contact point for the research team.

The academy scientists, however, as of yesterday said they had not been able to draw up a research outline because no one at the Pentagon had told them what materials, including troop rosters, are available.