US & Canada

US nuclear scientist jailed for trying to sell secrets

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni Oct 22 2009 Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Mascheroni said the US government wrongly targeted him as a spy

A former scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US has been sentenced to five years in jail for attempting to pass nuclear bomb-making secrets to Venezuela.

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni pleaded guilty in 2013 to delivering secrets to an undercover FBI agent, who he thought was a Venezuelan official.

Pedro Mascheroni, who is 79, is originally from Argentina.

His wife was also sentenced to one year in prison.

Mascheroni was under investigation for about a year before he was charged.

The US intelligence agency, the FBI, seized computers, letters, photographs and books from his home.

Undercover agent

According to court documents, Mr Mascheroni told the undercover FBI agent that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years.

He said the country would be able to set up a secret underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium.

Venezuela would also be able to build a plant to produce nuclear energy, he said.

Mr Mascheroni worked for around a decade in a nuclear weapons design division at the Los Alamos laboratory where the the first atomic bomb was developed.

He was laid off in 1988. His wife was a technical writer there.

In an interview with Associated Press, he said he had approached other countries after his ideas on cleaner nuclear power were rejected by the laboratory and later by congressional officials.

Mascheroni said he approached Venezuela after the United Sates rejected his theories that a hydrogen-fluoride laser could produce nuclear energy.

The American government has said it does not believe Venezuela was trying to access US nuclear secrets.

More on this story