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Ex-TVA manager admits role in nuke-sharing scheme

(KNOXVILLE) A former TVA manager accused of conspiring with a nuclear engineer to give Chinese officials information so they could produce nuclear material admitted his role in the crime more than a year ago, federal records show.

Ching Ning Guey's plea agreement was unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

The Taiwan native agreed in April 2015 to plead guilty without a grand jury review to a charge of participation in the development of special nuclear material outside of the United States. That's a federal law specifically designed to protect U.S. nuclear interests.

He's charged along with longtime acquaintance Allen Ho in the alleged conspiracy.

Ho, also known as Szuhsiung Ho, is a naturalized American citizen who was born in China. He faces a two-count indictment that accuses him of recruiting people to secure the privileged information without the approval of the U.S. Department of Energy. He's also charged with acting as an agent "of a foreign government" while in the United States.

Related: U.S. engineer accused in nuke conspiracy

Ho, a nuclear engineer employed by the China General Nuclear Power Co., a government entity, appeared this week in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. He also owns a U.S. firm called Energy Technology International, according to the government.

Ho and Guey had known each other since the early 1990s, the government alleges, and Ho recruited Guey to help him give the Chinese information about nuclear technologies.

The objective was to enable China General Nuclear Power to design and manufacture "certain components for nuclear reactors more quickly by reducing the time and financial costs of research and development."

In the early 1990s, Guey worked for Florida Power & Light before eventually taking a job as a senior manager for probabilistic risk assessment in TVA's Nuclear Power Group. He was with TVA from April 2010-September 2014.

According to the plea agreement, Guey had access to privileged information about developing and producing special nuclear material.

"The defendant received warnings and guidance on the restrictions and controls that pertain to the prohibitions against the distribution and sharing of this information with restricted countries," the document states.

He traveled to China in November 2013 on a trip arranged by Ho, the government alleges. He was invited to a "technological exchange" by Chinese government officials - and he expected to be paid for giving information while he was there.

Without the approval of U.S. energy officials Guey gave the Chinese several reports from the U.S.-based Electric Power Research Institute Inc. that covered topics such as nuclear plant design and power plant piping, according to the government.

As recently as December, Ho sent Guey a check in Chattanooga for $15,555.20 for his help in 2013 and 2014, according to government documents.

Ho recruited other American experts to help in his quest, according to the government.An indictment against Ho was unsealed earlier this month.

He was arrested in Georgia and moved to Tennessee to face prosecution.

Ho remains in custody and this week waived his right to a detention hearing.

A pre-trial conference for Ho is set for June 14 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton, and trial is set for June 27, although such first settings often are rescheduled to give the defense more time to prepare.

The FBI has been investigating the case as well as TVA's Officer of the Inspector General. Others involved include the National Nuclear Security Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Chuck Atchley of the Eastern District of Tennessee and Casey Arrowood of the National Security Division's Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.