NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The executive hired to rehabilitate the troubled Salem nuclear power plants is retiring from Public Service Electric and Gas Co. in April with one of the units back on line and the other poised to return before then.

Leon Eliason will be succeeded as president and chief nuclear officer of PSE&G's Nuclear Business Unit by Harold W. Keiser, who was named vice president pending the turnover, the utility said Monday.

Eliason, 58, joined PSE&G in October 1994 following a series of problems at the plants in Salem County. The utility, the largest in New Jersey, voluntarily shut down the twin 1,100-megawatt reactors in 1995.

Both units remain on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's list of troubled plants warranting increased federal scrutiny.

``I am satisfied that my job here is done,'' Eliason said.

``I believe Salem will prove to be one of the smartest, most prudent investments this company has made in providing for the future needs of its customers,'' said Eliason, who is concluding a 32-year career in nuclear power.

Keiser, 51, comes to the Newark-based utility after 27 years in the nuclear business, most recently at Commonwealth Edison of Illinois, where he was vice president and chief operating officer of its nuclear unit.

PSE&G operates the Salem 1 and 2 nuclear reactors on the shore of the Delaware River. It owns 42.59 percent of the units, as does PECO Energy Co. The Atlantic Electric Co. and Delmarva Power and Light Co. each have a stake of 7.41 percent.

Salem 2 was restarted last summer after being off for more than two years. Salem 1 has been off even longer, since May 1995, but PSE&G has applied to federal regulators for permission to resume operations there.

Following millions of dollars spent to replace cracked steam generators, Salem 1 is undergoing refueling. PSE&G hopes it can resume producing power by the end of March, utility spokeswoman Emma Byrne said Monday.

Critics have lobbied for both reactors to remain shut permanently.

PSE&G also operates and owns 95 percent of the adjacent Hope Creek nuclear plant at the Artificial Island Complex, the second-largest commercial nuclear facility in the country. The other owner is Atlantic Electric.

The reactors supply power to parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.