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U.S. and Soviet specialists are mapping out an ambitious series of cooperative programs, including an exchange of nuclear power plant inspectors, in the wake of the first visit to the Soviet Union by a chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"We laid the groundwork for a very hopeful, very positive exchange in the future," NRC Chairman Lando W. Zech Jr. said Thursday.The Aug. 19-31 Soviet trip by a delegation headed by Zech included an inspection tour of the Chernobyl reactor that exploded and burned in April 1986, killing 31 people and forcing evacuation of a large surrounding area in the Ukraine.

The American group also visited nuclear plants at Novovoronezh and Rovno, as well as a reactor fabrication facility near Leningrad.

Talks held in Moscow by the delegation involved the first meeting of a new U.S.-Soviet Joint Coordinating Committee for Civilian Nuclear Reactor Safety.

"Our discussions were very candid, very open and I would say very productive," Zech told reporters.

While the Americans and Soviets discussed differences in the design, construction and operation of nuclear plants, he said, "it was clear to me . . . that we have much more in common than we do differences."

James M. Taylor, the NRC's deputy executive director for operations, said the joint coordinating committee had agreed on a yearlong series of meetings, seminars and exchanges in both countries, including an exchange of nuclear power plant safety inspectors.

"We hope that the exchange of inspectors will take place during the summer months next year," Taylor said.

He said the program also would involve sharing of technical data with the Soviets in several areas of key interest to the United States, among them:

-Radiation-caused embrittlement of reactor components and full-scale annealing of reactor vessels.

-Studies of health and environmental effects in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. "It's very important information, to predict and to understand the effects of radiation on health and the environment," Taylor said.

-Erosion and corrosion of nuclear plant piping.

Zech said that while it was clear from the U.S. group's onsite visits that the Soviets have undertaken numerous safety modifications since Chernobyl, "we did not make any overall safety assessment of their plants."