A presidential commission yesterday recommended that victims of catastrophic nuclear accidents be "fully" compensated through a new claims system, but declined to say who would fund it.

Under the Price-Anderson Act of 1957, the current total public liability for an accident is $7.3 billion, to be paid by the nuclear industry.

Although it said the likelihood of a major reactor accident in the United States is "exceedingly remote," the commission said there had been a growing awareness of the "inadequacies" of the current system of dealing with victims of accidents such as the chemical spill in Bhopal, India, or the effects of Agent Orange defoliant, asbestos and the Dalkon shield.

The main conclusion of the Presidential Commission on Catastrophic Nuclear Accidents, chaired by Steve C. Griffth Jr., senior vice president and general counsel of Duke Power Company in Charlotte, N.C., is that traditional methods of individual litigation would result in the "outright denial" of recovery for some victims or make it "difficult and protracted" for others.

Instead it calls for a federal court to settle the level of compensation for all victims claiming losses caused by a nuclear accident or a precautionary evacuation. By cutting down on litigation, "greater relief" would be provided to a greater number of people "more easily, more quickly and more consistently" than would otherwise be available, the report states.

However, calling the issue a "political question", the commission did not address where the extra funding should come from -- taxpayers or the nuclear industry -- if claims exceed the $7.3 billion set by the Price-Anderson Act.

"The commission says victims of nuclear accidents should be compensated, but it doesn't say how," said Gene Karpinski, director of the U.S. Public Interests Research Group, a nonprofit energy advocacy organization. "We believe the industry should pay, but the commission has totally ducked this question."