The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says a record $1.25 million fine against the operator of the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant should serve as a warning to other utilities that may be guilty of lax employee supervision.

The fine against the Philadelphia Electric Co. is the largest proposed by the NRC since Congress gave it authority to issue civil penalties in 1969.In a letter to the company, James Taylor, the NRC's regional deputy executive director, said that "weaknesses in both corporate and site management oversight and inattentiveness on the part of the operators were longstanding problems at Peach Bottom."

"All levels of plant management at that time either knew or should have known of these facts and either took no action or inadequate action to correct this situation," the letter said.

Taylor also said he believed additional action was needed to "further emphasize to the licensee and its Board of Directors, as well as all other utilities, the significance of the problem, and to ensure that corrective actions are long lasting."

Of 36 current and former NRC-licensed operators at the Delta plant near the Maryland border, 33 were fined between $500 and $1,000 each for failing to detect, report and deal with inattentive operators.

Six former shift superintendents, who held NRC senior reactor operator licenses at the time of the shutdown, were fined $1,000 each. Eight present or former senior reactor operators were fined $800 each, and 19 other operators were fined $500 each.

Three operators were cited for violating NRC requirements but were not fined because they had been licensed for only a brief period before the plant was shut down.

The NRC said the individual fines - the first such civil penalties for individual operators - were levied because the employees violated "a special trust and confidence of the American people in the safe operation" of the plant.

At a news conference Thursday, PE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Paquette Jr. said the NRC actions were "strong medicine" and "a very clear message to the nuclear industry."