Nuclear power plant employee arrested: gave access codes, software to Iran


21 April 2007:  Mohammad ALAVI, 49 a U.S. citizen with reported ties to the Phoenix, Arizona Muslim community as well ties with Iran, worked as an engineer for the last 16 years at the largest nuclear power plant in the U.S. at the Palo-Verde nuclear power plant. ALAVI abruptly quit his job at the reactor last August. On April 9, ALAVI stepped off a plane at the Los Angeles International Airport where he was returning from a trip to Iran, and was arrested by the FBI. According to federal officials, ALAVI stole computer access codes and software from the nuclear plant during his employment, and shared the information with Tehran.

According to the information contained in the federal charges, the software taken by ALAVI allows users to access to details on the Palo Verde nuclear power plant control rooms, reactors and plant layout. The software was used in October, two months after ALAVI’s departure from the plant, to download training materials in Tehran, using an active Palo Verde user identification.

At this time, ALAVI has only been charged with a single count of violating a trade embargo that prohibits Americans from exporting goods and services to Iran. If convicted of that charge, he could face up to 21 months in prison. Through his attorney Milagros Cisneros of the Federal Defender’s Office in Phoenix, ALAVI, meanwhile, denies any wrongdoing. The FBI also stated that there is no indication that ALAVI has any terrorist connections and that there is no evidence to suggest the software access was linked to the Iranian government.

The triple reactor plant, located about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, supplies electricity to some 4 million customers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California and has been plagued by outages and equipment problems for the past several years.