Friday, 14 April 2017

Remembering the man who alerted the world to the nuclear terror threat

Paul Leventhal was a reporter before deciding to work in government.


I write this affectionate memoire on the tenth anniversary of Paul’s all-too–early death.


I can barely believe it is ten years since Paul left personally- but leaving behind his huge research and documentary legacy.


Paul was my mentor – indeed my controversialist “muse” –that is, “a person who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist or analyst” -  and I am proud to say, a genuine friend.


He, like me, began his career writing for a living, went into advising politicians on the Hill  (myself in the UK and European Parliament) , then created his own think tank/lobby group in th unique  N.C.I. (I co-founded  the London-based European Proliferation Information Centre, EPIC) (



We were in some ways an odd couple: when Paul would fly to the UK twice a year through the 1990s to participate as an expert critical voice in the erstwhile British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) Stakeholder Dialogue, the participants would be put up in rather nice hotels, usually with a pool. Paul and I would regularly meet in the pool at 6-30 next morning, and after swimming some dozens of lengths, we would have a ten minute chin-wag or con-fab in the sauna, deliberating plutonium minutiae before breakfast. Dedicated or mad?!


But Paul’s dedicated participation in that forum gave the N.G.Os – nowadays  more often called “Civil Society” groups - was utterly invaluable, for not only did he give their contributions  expert personal gravitas, but he could obtain  incredible documentation from the much more open US information system, to bolster arguments on plutonium proliferation, diversion, safeguards and terrorist vulnerabilities – as well as mining the  uniquely assembled N.C.I  library document source. (


Paul showed his confidence in me in several times contracting me to draft submissions to British Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiries into nuclear issues on behalf of the N.C.I.


The very first one I drafted was on the notoriously failed Sellafield MOX plant, for a House of Lords Inquiry.  I was due to complete it late afternoon London time, and email it to Paul, for him to edit it using  ever his sharp hand and brain overnight  London time, and  be back with me for submission next day  I had nearly finished it, when my computer crashed, and, to my horror, I found I had neither named nor saved the document!


I called him to let him know. He just gently encouraged me to not panic, write it again  and make the second version even better. We got it in on time!


For outsiders who did not know him, Paul sometimes came across as irascible; and for many in the liberal-minded folks in the anti-nuclear community inside the Beltway, he was regarded as a very hawkish liberal.


I often muse how would  Paul have reacted to the Iran Nuclear Deal; or the current drum-banging against North Korean atomic aspirations. I guess he would have taken a tough line.


But the was rightly equally tough with successive Governments and Presidents in DC.


The BBC carried an obituary on Paul in its weekly obituary show ‘Last Word ’ on  Friday  April 20th, 2007. (

Describing Paul as first an educator, then journalist and nonproliferation expert, the BBC interviewed some Paul’s career associates including Eldon Greenburg and Richard Wegman.

The latter recalled ”:We went out to visit with one of the most prominent nuclear physicists of that time, Theodore Taylor, one of the fathers of the hydrogen bomb and we met with him. And in very calm terms, he told us how much of a threat nuclear material could pose if it fell into the wrong hands. He held up the glass of water, then he said, “This is the amount of plutonium or high enriched uranium that a group would need to set off some kind of an explosion that could wipe out an entire city.” He said, “We have to do a far better job than we are doing to safeguard these materials and prevent these materials from falling in the wrong hands. And that was really why Paul dedicated his life and his work…..


“Paul devoted himself in the congress to help develop a framework to control the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons. And that ultimately results in the enactment in 1978 of landmark legislation called “The Nuclear Nonproliferation Act.” Established the basic framework within the United States for the control of our exports of nuclear materials and equipment. And Paul was the instrumental staff member in the senate in helping get that legislation through. It was a tremendous accomplishment.


“Paul was exceptionally gifted in several respects and I think both of them came out of his work as an investigative journalist. First of all, he was absolutely dogged in his pursuit of the facts and the truth. And Paul, of course, was not a scientist, but he made it his business to thoroughly understand both the science and technology of nuclear power. And the other wonderful skill that Paul had was that he was an extremely gifted and extremely able writer.


Greenburg added” I think 911 had a profound affect upon Paul. When Paul started the Nuclear Control Institute in 1981, he published a full-page ad in The New York Times which had a mushroom cloud and the ad suggested that there was a serious risk of nuclear terrorism. That was a concern that he had for 20 years. It led to the establishment of a number of task forces. And people would “pooh-pooh” the idea. They’d say, “Well, the terrorists aren’t really interested in causing mass death and mass destruction.”


“….Paul was a very idealistic person. He believed that he was pursuing the common good. That is the elimination or reduction of the threats of nuclear proliferation was really critical to the survival of mankind. So he felt that he had a mission and it was a terribly important mission. And that’s what drove him. He and I would often talk about the policy positions that the Nuclear Control Institute was taking and I would argue with Paul. And I would say, “Paul, we can’t let the best be the enemy of the good.” And Paul would often reply, “Well, I know that’s what you say, Eldon, but sometimes the good just isn’t good enough when the very survival of humanity is at risk.”



I absolutely agree.


Finally, here is my own Guardian Obit


Paul Leventhal: A radical campaigner, he spoke out against the proliferation of nuclear power

David Lowry
The Guardian Tuesday April 17, 2007

Frequently attired in his trademark bow tie, Paul Leventhal, who has died aged 69, after a protracted illness, appeared as an establishment dandy amid arms control radicals - until he opened his mouth. Compelling, sometimes abrasive, and latterly president emeritus of the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) - which he founded 25 years ago - Leventhal was an adversary of atomic enthusiasts like no other, demanding respect from his staunchest opponents with his political insight and thoroughness of research.


Paul's work was at the heart of key security issues: nuclear terrorism, Iran's atomic aspirations, North Korea's atomic ambitions, and the future of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is up for review again in Vienna next month.

During his 21 years as the NCI's president, he prepared five books, including the pathbreaking Nuclear Terrorism Taskforce final report (1985) and lectured on the threat of nuclear proliferation. He frequently visited the nuclear lion's den, the annual gathering of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.

The NCI website's research themes sum up his concerns: nuclear power and the spread of nuclear weapons; nuclear terrorism and how to prevent it; Saddam Hussein and the bomb; the role of India and Pakistan; plutonium and reprocessing; plutonium sea shipments; plutonium and the net; and plutonium disposal.

It was around the last of these projects that I got to know Paul best, with his involvement in the British Nuclear Fuels stakeholder dialogue. He made transatlantic visits from 2000 to examine plutonium management and security, which led to two important reports on plutonium security available at:" ).

Born in New York, the son of a furrier, Paul was educated at Horace Mann high school and then graduated magna cum laude in government, from Pennsylvania's Franklin and Marshall College. After a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York he spent a decade as an investigative reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, New York Post and Newsday.

In 1969 Paul, a liberal Democrat became press secretary to the Republican New York senator, Jacob K Javits. In 1972, he served as congressional correspondent for the National Journal before returning to Capitol Hill to pursue legislative and investigative responsibilities.

One of his proudest contributions was his role in revelations of the 1977 Plumbat affair, whereby, in a high-seas heist, Israel obtained 200 tonnes of uranium for its secret nuclear weapons programme, and in the drafting of the US Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act (1978), possibly the most far-reaching legislative attempt to control the spread of nuclear weapon capability.

Paul was responsible for the investigations and legislation that resulted in another landmark law - the US Energy Reorganisation Act (1974), replacing the US Atomic Energy Commission with separate regulatory and promotional agencies. From 1976 to 1977 he was a research fellow on Harvard University's programme for science and international affairs, concentrating on nuclear weapons proliferation. He also served (1977-78) as assistant administrator for policy and planning at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He was director of the senate special investigation of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident (1979-80), and prepared the "lessons learned" legislation enacted in 1980 to require preventive measures and emergency planning for future accidents. From 1979 to 1981 he was staff director of the senate nuclear regulation subcommittee. Then, in 1981, came the NCI.

For the autumn of 1991 he was a distinguished visiting fellow on Cambridge University's global security programme. He warned against the risk of terrorist attacks on nuclear plants, and rejected nuclear power as an answer to climate change. It would take 3,000 plants, he wrote in the New York Times in 2001, "a tenfold increase, to replace all coal plants; yet that increase would reduce carbon emissions by only 20%, while enormously expanding risks that materials from nuclear power plants would be applied to making weapons."

"What distinguished Paul," wrote one of his colleagues, "was his deep-seated commitment, in a city (Washington DC) full of opportunists." Paul had a hinterland too, never missing the chance to take in a new West End or Broadway play. One of his most cherished memories was of exploring the Grand Canyon with one of his sons several years ago.

Franklin and Marshall College presented him its alumni medal in 1988 and an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2001, before he proudly delivered that year's commencement address. A brown leather case, with which he was presented on departing the Congress, was an ever-present accompaniment as he criss-crossed the globe, as were his Speedo swimming trunks.

He was always fully backed by his wife, Sharon. She survives him, as do his sons Ted and Josh, two grandchildren, Griffin and Paul, and his brother Warren.




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