Nuclear plant software contains info available on the Web - East Valley Tribune: News

Nuclear plant software contains info available on the Web

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Posted: Monday, April 23, 2007 7:58 pm | Updated: 6:43 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

PHOENIX - A government Web site and public libraries offer some of the information contained in software that a former engineer at the nation's largest nuclear plant is accused of using while in Iran.

Investigators said they don't believe software engineer Mohammad Alavi intended to provide details of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station to terrorists.

Alavi, a native of Iran who is a U.S. citizen, is accused of using the software after he quit working at the plant and while he was in Iran. The training software allows users access to details of plant control rooms and reactors.

David Lochbaum, director of nuclear safety for the watchdog group Union of Concerned Scientists, said numerous plant workers already have access to such information and that it could be found in a more fragmented form on a government Web site.

He said the software and details of the plant could prove valuable for businesses seeking to earn money by fixing problems at nuclear plants of similar design.

"The more plant-specific data you have, you are more likely to have the answer than the guy down the street," Lochbaum said.

While operators said the alleged unauthorized use of the software didn't compromise plant security, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes said she wants to meet with plant operators to determine how they will prevent a repeat of the problem.

"This was an unacceptable, incomprehensible mistake," Mayes said.

Alavis, a Palo Verde employee from 1989 until last August, is accused of using a Palo Verde user identification to download training materials from Tehran.

Alavi, who has denied any wrongdoing, was arrested April 9 when he arrived on a flight from Iran. He is charged with a single count of violating a trade embargo that prohibits Americans from exporting goods and services to Iran.

Authorities said the company had shut down Alavi's access to the software after he resigned, but that the engineer later used his logon to get onto a Web site run by the vendor of the software. Plant operators failed to notify the vendor that the engineer had resigned.

Jim McDonald, spokesman for Arizona Public Service, the Phoenix-based utility company that operates the plant, said the company now notifies all its vendors to cut off the access of former employees.

McDonald said the unauthorized use of the software didn't pose a security risk because it contained no information on plant security.

"It doesn't have fine details of the plant or system," McDonald said, noting that the information in the software was available at public libraries.

Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said plant security wasn't compromised and declined to comment on what Alavi may have been trying to do with the software.

A call to Alavi's lawyer, Milagros Cisneros, wasn't immediately returned Monday afternoon.

Deborah McCarley, a spokeswoman for the FBI, which is investigating the case, said she couldn't comment on Alavis' intentions.

"Up until this point in the investigation, nothing has been revealed to suggest that he provided this to be used for foreign governments or terrorist organizations," McCarley said.

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

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