Because of an Associated Press wirephoto error, a picture caption in yesterday's editions transposed the identifications of John Ahearne, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Mitchell Rogovin, who heads a special NRC panel.

Nuclear power plants in regions too densely populated to be evacuated in case of an accident should be closed unless the president disapproves, an outside investigative panel yesterday told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Under proposed criteria for evacuation plans, some existing plants should be closed "unless additional safety systems are installed or the president determines that the continued operation of the plant is vital to the national interest," panel director mitchell Rogovin said.

A Washington lawyer, Rogovin was appointed seven months ago by NRC to head the Special Inquiry Group.

The rogovin panel did not identify the plants it feels should be closed. But the NRC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have privately pointed to the Indian Point plants outside New York and the Zion plant outside Chicago as two that could not meet proposed evacuation standards.

Other plants that FEMA believes are marginally close to cities include the Salem and Oyster Creek, N.J.,plants near Philadelphia; the Beaver Valley, Pa., plant near Pittsburgh; the Turkey Point, Fla., plant near Miami; the Millstone and Haddam Neck, Conn., plants not far from New London, and the Duane Arnold, Iowa, plant near Des Moines.

A plant that is to begin operating this year inside the city limits of Midland, Mich., also fits the marginal category.

The Rogovin group also recommended that future nuclear plants be built in the most remote sites possible and that no nuclear plant be closer than 10 miles to what it called a "population center."

Like the Kemeny Commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident for the White House, the Rogovin panel recommended breaking up the five-member NRC and establishing a single-administrator agency to regulate nuclear power in the U.S.

"The NRC is the only federal agency set up to regulate public health and safety that is headed by a commission," Rogovin told the NRC

"The NRC needs one person to direct and supervise its operations."

Rogovin, whose law firm directed the study under a $3 million NRC contract, said NRC is set up so that a huge staff is somewhat independent of its five-member commission, with the result that the agency "was not so badly managed as it wasn't managed at all."

Rogovin pointed out that the five commissioners were in offices one hour by shuttle bus from the staff, and in effect the commission was "isolated from the staff."

"The relationship of the five commissioners and the staff is not unlike that of sovereign nations," Rogovin said. Cordial, somewhat distant and conducted for the most part in writing."

Rogovin criticized the way the Nrc staff organization as well. He described the staff as being divided into "five fuedal baronies" who do not want to give up their independence."

"It's like an amateur soccer team." Rogovin said. "Everybody runs to where the ball is."

The result Rogovin concluded, is that NRC is poorly equipped to act as a watchdog of nuclear safety.

"The NRC is incapable of managing public health and safety," Rogovin said. "We've reached the inescapable conclusion that improved management will improve reactor safety."

One of Rogovin!s strongest recommendations was that the NRC take a more commanding role in the training of nuclear plant operators and authorize the "chartering" of an operating consortium solely to run nuclear power plants for electric companies.

"We think this could help resolve the NRC's dilemma where a utility fails to put together a qualified operating team inside the plant," Rogovin said. "As of now, the only weapon the NRC has to fight inadequate operations is to fire a utility or suspend its license. That's not enough."

The Rogovin panel drew one frightening conclusion about the accident at Three Mile Island: it said that if the stuck relief valve that kept pulling cooling water out of the reactor had been left open another 30 to 60 minutes, the uranium core would have begun to melt and as many as half the 36,000 fuel rods in the core could have melted.

Two hours and 18 minutes into the accident, Three Mile Island operators realized the relief valve was stuck open and closed it. While it was to late to avoid the uncovering of the core and damage to half the fuel rods, the Rogovin panel said, it was done in time to avert the beginning of a meltdown.