The nation's nuclear power industry yesterday lost a Supreme Court effort to scuttle anticipated federal rules for the training of nuclear plant workers.

The justices, over the dissenting vote of Justice Byron R. White, let stand a federal appeals court ruling that forces the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue such binding rules.

The appeals court said Congress intended to have binding rules imposed when it enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The law requires "regulations or other appropriate commission regulatory guidance" for training nuclear power plant workers.

But lawyers for the nuclear power industry contend the commission complied with the 1982 law when it issued a "policy statement" in 1985 endorsing the industry's self-improvement safety program.

The dispute has its roots in the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. A presidential commission appointed to investigate the accident concluded, among other things, that inadequate training of nuclear plant employees increased the risk of future accidents.

The nuclear industry has created an independent organization to bring about self-improvement. According to the Nuclear Management and Resources Council, comprising all utilities holding operating or construction permits for nuclear plants, the industry spent "hundreds of millions of dollars to expand and refine . . . {the} training and accreditation program."

The federal commission, which did not appeal the appellate court ruling to the Supreme Court, told the justices it did not oppose the nuclear industry's appeal.

The case is Nuclear Management and Resources Council v. Public Citizen.