LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ The operators of uranium processing plants in Paducah and Piketon, Ohio, erased hundreds of safety and environmental problems from computer records without proper government approval, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Department of Energy had required plant operators to track their progress toward correcting problems, but more than one-fourth of such records at both plants were deleted without DOE clearance in 1993, according to documents obtained by The Courier-Journal.

The Energy Department, after a three-year investigation, reconstructed the erased items from computer archives and paper records and concluded the deletions were inappropriate. DOE also found that nearly half the problems either had not been fixed or should have been referred to other agencies before being erased.

The erased items included government and operator findings of a lax attitude toward safety by first-line supervisors, inconsistent investigations of accidents, health and safety violations by both management and rank-and-file workers.

The United States Enrichment Corp., which now leases and operates both plants, was ordered to fix some of the remaining uncorrected problems, but it was not fined, nor were the plants shut down at any time, the newspaper reported.

The Justice Department is investigating the erasures as part of its broader probe into allegations of fraud by contractors at the Paducah plant.

USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said that while the safety items were ``deleted from the tracking system,'' they were ``never deleted from existence.''

In memos to the Energy Department, USEC also has said it had the right to erase certain items without permission and that the findings it deleted did not have a significant impact on the plants' safety.