Paul Leventhal, who as president of the small but influential Nuclear Control Institute was one of the most vocal opponents of expanding the commercial use of nuclear power, died Tuesday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 69.
The cause was cancer, his son Ted said.
Mr. Leventhal founded the Nuclear Control Institute in 1981, two years after becoming co-director of the United States Senate’s bipartisan investigation of the Three Mile Island accident, the nation’s most serious commercial reactor failure. .
Mr. Leventhal opposed commercial nuclear power not only because of the threat of a Chernobyl-like disaster but also because of its potential to ease the making of nuclear weapons. The construction of nuclear reactors in this country ceased for decades, though experts attribute this to cost more than to fears of proliferation. But Mr. Leventhal kept those fears on the front burner for 22 years as his institute’s president and since 2002, when his title became founding president.
He lobbied lawmakers, organized conferences and wrote op-ed articles about proliferation, nuclear terrorism and the use of commercial reactors to make tritium, an ingredient of nuclear bombs, a program that the federal Energy Department is now pursuing.
He was particularly concerned about Iran, which he believed had a secret weapons program that would justify a harsh reaction, perhaps even military strikes.
“If you look at every nation that’s recently gone nuclear, they’ve done it through the civilian nuclear cycle,” Mr. Leventhal told The New York Times in 2004.
Atoms for peace can be a “shortcut to atoms for war,” he added. “It may take the unthinkable happening before the political process can screw up the courage to put an end to this ridiculously dangerous industry.”
Paul Lincoln Leventhal was born in Manhattan on Feb. 12 in 1938, a son of Jack and Helen Shapiro Leventhal. In addition to his son Ted, of Washington, he is survived by his wife of 39 years, the former Sharon Tanzer; another son, Josh, of Raleigh, N.C.; a brother, Warren, of Roslyn, N.Y.; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Leventhal graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in 1959 and received a master’s from the Columbia School of Journalism in 1960. He was a reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and later The New York Post and Newsday.
In 1969, Senator Jacob K. Javits, Republican of New York, hired him as his press secretary. Mr. Leventhal began concentrating on energy issues for Mr. Javits and, in 1979, was named staff director of the Senate’s subcommittee on nuclear regulation and a director of the Three Mile Island investigation.