A small community of 8,500 people immediately west of this south Georgia port city became the third location in the country Monday to pass an ordinance banning the transportation of nuclear waste material through its territory.

he action by the Garden City council, if not overruled by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, probably will keep spent fuel from nuclear test reactors abroad from being shipped into the Savannah area, because most of the state port facilities are hemmed in by the Garden City limits. Any shipments would have to be carried by land from the port to the Department of Energy's nuclear storage facility at Barnwell, S.C.

The port of Miami and Chicago O'Hare International Airport also have banned incoming shipments of spent fuel, according to Diane Harmon, vice president of Edlow International, which handles such shipments. The Garden City ordinance also restricts the transportation of less radioactive substances by mandating a 78-hour notification of the shipment and requiring identification of the type of fuel and its intended shipping route.

The Savannah City Council also is considering a restricting ordinance as a result of a lobbying effort by a group called the Coastal Citizens for Clean Energy.

A spokesman for the Georgia Ports Authority said that Savannah has received a few shipments of spent nuclear fuel through the port,next to Garden City. The United States receives about 50 such shipments annually, most of them through Portsmouth, Va.

The NRC has been conducting a study of port facilities to see if any meet new NRC guidelines. The guidelines require that, whenever feasible, highly radioactive material should be transported only through low-population areas. Companies shipping radioactive material must apply to the NRC for approval of routes.

The only port so far identified by NRC officials as meeting the population stipulation is Morehead City, N.C., and Edlow is negotiating with shipping companies to use that small port.

Although the Savannah area, with a population of about 200,000, does not meet the population guideline, NRC director of safeguards Robert Burnett said several weeks ago that he expected Edlow, one of two firms that handles nuclear waste shipments, to apply for a route through the Savannah area.

But Sam Edlow, president of the firm, said Edlow has made no application to the NRC to ship spent fuel through any location other than Portsmouth.

The Garden City City Council says its action stemmed less from an objection to nuclear energy than from a feeling that the federal government should not be foisting the problems associated with its nuclear foreign policy onto small communities.

"Our feeling was if the federal government has required this stuff to be sent back to the United States, the burden should be on the federal government, not on the cities" to find a safe route, said Garden City Councilman Ralph Kessler in a debate on the ordinance.

Burnett said the NRC has the power to overrule such local ordinances, but that the commission gives consideration to local restrictions when deciding on route applications.

In other developments:

Two antinuclear groups, Virginia Sunshine of Richmond and Truth in Power Inc. of Portsmouth, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington to stop government shipments of spent nuclear fuel through Portsmouth. Ronald Gluck, attorney for the NRC, said the commission is seeking an alternate route but it is "not practical to avoid the Portsmouth area at this time."

County commissions in Yadkin and Surry counties in North Carolina are considering legislation to limit the shipping of nuclear wastes through their counties.