Accused nuke engineer: I was showing off

/ Source: The Associated Press

A former nuclear engineer accused of taking software back to his native Iran told authorities he was only trying to show off for family and friends.

Mohammad Alavi, 49, also told FBI agents that he left his job at the nation's largest nuclear power plant and moved to Iran to be closer to relatives, according to records obtained by The Arizona Republic.

Alavi, who lived in the U.S. as a naturalized citizen for 30 years, is charged with violating a trade embargo with Iran, which carries a maximum penalty of 21 months in prison. Trial is set for July 3.

Alavi worked at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix for 16 years, until he resigned in August and moved to Tehran.

The software he downloaded onto his personal laptop was part of an emergency-training package containing details of the plant's control rooms, reactors and designs. It is not classified, has no links to actual plant workings and can't be used to affect operations.

Employees were encouraged to download the software and work on it at home, according to officials with the Arizona Public Service Co., the Phoenix-based utility company that operates Palo Verde.

APS did not know Alavi had left the country with the information until the Maryland software manufacturer reported attempts to access the training system from a Tehran address.

Alavi was arrested April 8 as he stepped off a plane in Los Angeles. He was returning to the U.S. with his wife for the birth of their first child. He is being held without bail in Arizona.

Alavi acknowledged downloading the software in Iran but said he did it to show relatives and a business associate, according to court records.

The laptop was still in a closet at his mother's house in Tehran, he said.

He told authorities he was about to start a job with an electric-motor company in Tehran.

The plant, located in Wintersburg about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, supplies electricity to 4 million customers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California.