updated 12/16/2008 5:50:16 PM ET 2008-12-16T22:50:16

An Iranian-born engineer who worked at the largest nuclear power plant in the United States was sentenced Tuesday to 15 months in prison for taking computer software that he obtained at the plant to Iran.

U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake ordered that Mohammad Reza Alavi's two sentences of 15 months be served at the same time. Alavi, a naturalized U.S. citizen, worked for the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix for 17 years.

Palo Verde officials have said the software did not contain enough information to pose a security threat.

Alavi, 51, apologized in court before Wake handed down the sentence, which was more than the six months the defense had asked for but less than the prosecution sought.

"I have only myself to blame for these actions and I accept full responsibility," Alavi said. "I love America and would never do anything to hurt this country."

Wake said he believed Alavi was aware that what he was doing was wrong and that other people need to be deterred from committing similar crimes.

"It has not been shown that the transporting of stolen software and its presence in Iran actually resulted in any security harm, but it is impossible to know," Wake said.

Federal prosecutor David Pimsner said the government couldn't ignore Alavi's crimes.

Iran is "a country that everyone is well aware is developing its own nuclear industry," he said.

Iran's nuclear ambitions
The U.S. and many of its allies suspect that Iran wants to develop weapons through its nuclear program, but Tehran says it is focused on power generation.

In May, a federal jury convicted Alavi of illegally accessing a protected computer but deadlocked on two other counts. Alavi then reached a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded to one of the remaining counts. The other one, involving violation of the U.S. trade embargo with Iran, was dropped.

Prosecutors said Alavi likely wanted to use the software to boost his chances for a job in the Iranian nuclear industry. Access to protected American software would have made him especially valuable, they said.

Alavi's lawyer, David Laufman, said in court documents that Alavi wanted to move back to Iran because his wife found living in the U.S. difficult. He said he took the software with him because he was proud he had helped design it. He said he showed the software only to his family, and then only for a few minutes.

Alavi's access to the plant's computer network was terminated 11 days after he quit in August 2006. But when he was in Iran two months later, investigators said, Alavi downloaded an access code from the software maker.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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