Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee on nuclear regulation, said yesterday new nuclear plants should not receive operating licenses until the state involved has an approved emergency evacuation plan.

In a speech to the National Press Club, Hart said immediate shutdown of the nation's 72 licensed reactors "is not a realistic option-unless we are willing to make drastic changes in our lifestyle."

Instead, he said, the nuclear industry, the press, the presidency, regulatory agencies and government are on trial in a newly public debate about nuclear power. Some steps such as requiring detailed emergency plans can be taken immediately, he continued, but basic economic and other questions have to be reassessed.

Some of the short-range measures Hart suggested are also expected to be offered as amendments Thursday to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission budget authorization when it comes before the full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. They include continuous onsite federal inspection of each plant; revision of licensing procedures; remote monitoring in Washington of the key instruments on every reactor nationwide, and wider intervention authority for the commission in case of an emergency.

As Hart was speaking, the Oregon House approved on indefinite moratorium on construction of new nuclear power plants. A one-year moratorium has already been approved by the state Senate, which is expected to resist extending the ban. Its supporters argued, among other things, that no safe storage exists for high-level radio-active waste.

In Cordover, Ill., a hydrogen tank caught fire in a storage area near the Quad Cities nuclear generator and burned for about an hour. There were no injuries, no evacuation an no damage to any nuclear equipment, the nearest of which was 250 feet away, the regulatory commission said.

And in Natick, Mass., technicians are trying to figure out how to put some radioactive cobalt back in its water tank without going into the room where it is. The cobalt-60, used in food preservation experiments, was raised out of the tank by an elevator system that then broke down. The concrete room is full of lethal radiation but none has leaked out, officials said. They added they were trying to make some special tools to extend through tubes to pluck the cobalt off its perch and return it to the water.