In Tribute To Joseph R. Egan

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Released at Yucca

Melrose, Minnesota native, Joe Egan, one of the nation’s top nuclear attorneys and a champion of non-proliferation causes, died May 7, 2008, of gastro-esophageal cancer. He was 53. As lead attorney for the State of Nevada in its multi-year battle against the Federal Government’s proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles north of Las Vegas, he arranged for his ashes to be spread across the volcanic terrain there with the eulogy, “Radwaste buried here only over my dead body.”

JoeEganThe son of turkey farmer Dick Egan and his wife Lucy from Melrose, Egan made his way to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning three degrees, in physics, nuclear engineering, and technology & policy. He was also captain of MIT’s varsity track team and an accomplished concert pianist. After working in the control room of a nuclear power plant and consulting on policy issues for the United Nations and other organizations, he attended law school at Columbia University, where he graduated with honors and went on to practice nuclear law, first at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green & MacRae in New York, and later at Shaw Pittman in Washington, D.C. In 1994, he formed his own firm devoted exclusively to nuclear environmental and non-proliferation law. His small firm played a role in almost every significant nuclear legal dispute in the world in the ensuing years.

Teaming with nuclear shipper Edlow International Co. in 1994, Egan brought together over a dozen countries to prosecute the return to the U.S. of more than 5000 tons of weaponsgrade uranium that had been disseminated across the globe under the Government’s “Atoms for Peace” program in the 1950s and 60s. Forming alliances with such unlikely partners as reactor operators, environmental groups, and arms control advocates, he lobbied the Government to reinstitute its defunct take-back program for spent nuclear fuel containing the highly sensitive uranium, and then defended that program in emergency litigation twice brought by the Governor of South Carolina to block the material from entering the country and being stored at the Government’s Savannah River Site in that state. In the end, Egan saw the return and neutralization of weapons-grade uranium from nearly all of the 42 countries supplied by the U.S. The late Paul Levanthal, founder of the non-proliferation group Nuclear Control Institute, called Egan’s campaign the greatest achievement in non-proliferation in his lifetime.

Representing Texas billionaire Harold Simmons in his planned development of a huge low-level radioactive waste disposal site in remote West Texas, Egan tangled with Envirocare of Utah in the late 90s, then the nation’s only such dump, owned by Iranian national Khosrow Semnani. When Semnani tried to block permitting for the Texas site, Egan filed a federal antitrust suit, shutting off multi-million-dollar government shipments to the Utah dump for nearly 11 months. During that time, Egan suffered a series of harassments, including death threats, break-ins at his home and office, and late-night harassment by thugs in unmarked cars. Though he never formally pegged these infractions to Semnani, the harassment ceased when the case was settled and Semnani’s monopoly was broken. Semnani, who had admitted getting his disposal license by paying Utah’s chief regulator $600,000 in cash and gold coins, later sold his site to Energy Solutions, Inc. for over $500 million. Semnani was represented in the case by Brent Hatch, son of Utah’s Senator Orrin Hatch, then head of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Egan represented 19 national governments on nuclear issues and was past president of the International Nuclear Law Association. In what became the first significant transnational environmental dispute, Egan represented the nation of Ireland in its battle with Great Britain over Britain’s pollution of the Irish Sea with radioactive waste and discharges from the Sellafield facility, Britain’s giant bomb-making and nuclear fuel reprocessing complex in Cambria. As was his hallmark, Egan used experts in probabilistic risk assessment to assess the risks and damages associated with operation of the facility.

Closer to home, Egan sued Lockheed Martin over its mismanagement of the Government’s giant Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Paducah, Kentucky on behalf of several whistleblowers and the Natural Resources Defense Council, arguing that the firm had helped contaminate hundreds of acres of land and illegally disposed of both radioactive and hazardous wastes in the area by the thousands of truckloads. It became the first case in which the Department of Justice intervened as lead prosecutor in an environmental case of this type, arguing that the Government had been defrauded of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Egan launched his largest effort, however, as lead counsel for Nevada in its opposition to the government’s proposed $77 billion high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. He was deputized by Governor Kenny Guinn on the afternoon of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and terrorist threats became a key issue in his battle over the proposed transport of thousands of shipments of nuclear waste from across the country to Nevada. Though ardently supportive of nuclear energy as an electric power source, Egan said he took on the project after learning in 1996 that the mountain had been discovered by the Energy Department to be highly porous and would leak radioactive contamination far more quickly than was ever anticipated. Since 2001, he led several lawsuits by Nevada in the D.C. Federal Court of Appeals, some of which overturned key government actions and legal assumptions and put the project on the verge of extinction. In parallel, he argued for the safe storage of nuclear waste at reactor sites.

Yucca Mountain was not Mr. Egan’s first foray into the Silver State. In 2000, he was appointed president of the Non-Proliferation Trust, Inc., a venture composed by, among others, Judge William Webster (former CIA- and FBI-Director), Admiral Bruce DeMars (former head of the U.S. Nuclear Navy), General P.X. Kelley (former Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps) Admiral Dan Murphy (former Commander of the Sixth Fleet), and Dr. Tom Cochran (a top arms control advocate) to bring a “Red October” type submarine from Russia to the Strip in Las Vegas, where it would serve as a Cold War Museum and adjacent casino. The project, part of a larger effort to enhance non-proliferation and cleanup efforts in Russia by raising $10 billion through Russia’s importation of used nuclear fuel from Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, stalled for lack of U.S. government approval.

Egan is survived by his wife Patricia, daughter Jennifer, and son Warren, who live in Naples, Florida, as well as his parents and siblings Timothy, Michelle Langlas, Anne Gant, and Denise Loonan.


Any lawyer who can pass the bar exam can read and understand the law. A good lawyer can figure out how the law applies to and can be turned to the advantage of his client. But a great lawyer can do both those things and explain it to his client in English.

Joe Egan was a great lawyer.

Joe walked into the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) Board meeting in Phoenix in 1992 in response to a call for a volunteer lawyer for the NAR. He proclaimed “I think you have a problem with the FAA and I think I can help.” Working then for Shaw Pittman, he secure nearly a quarter million dollars of pro-bono work that resulted in changes to Federal Air Regulation Part 101. The changes that he secured for all US rocketeers now benefit our clubs and more importantly, the high school students involved in the largest rocket contest in the world, the Team America Rocketry Challenge ( I have no doubt that the legal groundwork he laid for us in our litigation against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) will secure for us an equally promising and satisfying result.

While Joe's legal skills and talent were put to work with respect to both the FAA and BATFE, we knew him and enjoyed his company as a fellow rocketeer first, and a lawyer second. Whenever we got together for dinner prior to a court hearing, before we settled into the business at hand, there was always time to talk about rockets. Having your lawyer share the knowledge of your hobby, to say nothing of the passion of its practice, is an uncommon, unique experience. It’s those rocketry times, more than anything else, that I’ll treasure from my time with Joe.

Please be sure to let Joe's family, colleagues and associates know that we in the rocketry community share in the profound sense of loss his passing brings, and that our thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

Kind regards,
Mark B. Bundick, President
National Association of Rocketry (NAR)


Please accept our heartfelt condolences at Joe’s passing.  We admired Joe tremendously and feel very sad for his family and all of us.  We feel sure that Joe’s steady hand and expert guidance will continue to be felt as we move forward into the next stage of the Yucca Mountain saga.  Thanks to you all for your continued support and great work.

Marta Adams


We want to acknowledge right now the great loss to you and us all personally and professionally.  In our professional lives we have been privileged as few have to count ourselves as colleagues of Joe. Know that our thoughts are with you all as you resolve to continue his work and the firm that you all have built together.

Personally, Joe has enriched us with an example of dedication, enthusiasm, creativity, honor, and humor that is rare in our lives.

With great sympathy,
Tony Rossmann


Joe was a great lawyer and a great team leader.  Please pass my condolence to the family. 

Best wishes,
Sienho Yee


The summary of Joe's life was incredible. I knew he was brilliant but what a life!

Best wishes,
John Wreathall


It deeply saddened me and Jamie this morning to discover that Joe past away last night.  I'm sure that any comments I make here cannot express enough my compassion for Joe's family and relatives.  Please extend my condolences to everyone. 

The impression made by Joe in the nuclear legal community is great and unmatched.  His care and attention to detail throughout his life are a testimony to what being an attorney is all about.

Joe brought me to Shaw Pittman in 1993 as I was graduating from law school, asked me to leave with him as he formed Egan & Associates in 1994, and then helped me and Marty land at LeBoeuf, Lamb in 2000 when his firm was going through changes.  At LeBoeuf, when we brought a lawsuit against DOE and Winston & Strawn for an improper bid award for Yucca Mountain (now the work resides at Morgan, Lewis), we asked the State of Nevada to intervene as an amici.  They did and asked only that we consider working for the State if the lawsuit should not be successful.  LeBoeuf was not willing to take on Nevada as a client, so we contacted Joe with the lead.  Clearly he was successful.

Best regards, and sincere condolences.
John Lawrence


Life is so complex and intertwined that it seems impossible to know how its relationships and forces on our lives are determined. Each of us are but a small part of existence straining to understand the whole, no doubt in vain.

Thank goodness for all of the positive forces (especially Joe) we have been lucky enough to encounter during our too brief existence on this Earth. 

We must look forward and not back.  Joe did his best to protect us from the dark side by kicking, and I mean KICKING, them back in their cage and setting a standard we must strive to achieve.  I know you do too, but there will always be just one Joe.

I have no idea how our relationships in life are determined but I have always believed in hard work and doing what's right, at least as I have understood it.  I can't wonder if we have not been blessed by God.  I believe so.  Do the good die young?  Yes.  Let's not digress into DOE's types of uncertainty . . .

The world we live in is a wonderful place made more wonderful by Joe.  God rest his soul  for all of the opportunity Joe has contributed to our lives.

There is a void we will strive to fill which is our commitment to Joe.  

Allen Messenger


He was a good lawyer, and to all reports, a good man too. I'll miss his contribution to the public debate about high-level waste.

Steve (NRC)


We are very sad to announce the death of Joe Egan ’73 earlier this morning.  Joe was a giant among our alums and had become a good and trusted friend.  I’ll miss him enormously.  Joe’s wife, Patty; daughter, Jenny; son, Warren; mother and father, Dick and Lucy of Melrose, MN, and siblings survive him.

All of our love, support, prayers, and sympathy are extended to the family and to all who counted Joe a friend.

May he rest in peace.

Michael A. Mullin ‘52
St. John's Prep
Collegeville, MN


I've known Joe from the very first days of the law firm that he and John Lawrence opened in DC. John was my neighbor. One day I mentioned to John that I was thinking of starting a computer consulting company. John mentioned that he and Joe were looking to leave Shaw Pittman and start their own company. At that point we struck a deal. Joe and John would provide the legal services necessary to open my company, and I would provide the computer services necessary for them to open their law firm. That deal helped all of us to propel into our respective careers.

Over the years, we've stopped from time to time to chat about things. I've always made sure that any work Joe needed performed at his homes in Virginia, was performed by me personally. I've celebrated in his joy when he purchased the larger home in McLean. I've shared in his anxiousness when he was diagnosed with cancer. I always admired Joe. He was such a brilliant person. One of the greatest things I took away from knowing Joe was his confidence. He wasn't just confident in himself, he was confident in me. He wasn't intimidated by the scope of any challenge. I've learned to address challenges with Joe's ambition.

Joe's influence will not be forgotten.

Paul Brown


Joe was a great guy, and a good friend. It was a privilege to be his colleague and his friend. My condolences to Joe's entire family. Please know that there are many of us who admired Joe, and will miss him greatly.

Michael McBride (McLean, VA)


Please accept my sincere condolences at Joe’s passing.  I admired Joe tremendously as a friend, fellow nuclear engineer and very good lawyer.  Although we did not agree on several things, I believe we agreed much more than we disagreed.  His passing is a loss to everyone and my condolences to his family and colleagues.  He was a great man who will be missed by all.

Lake Barrett

Rockville, MD


I hold Joe Egan in the highest regard and have admired his devotion to God and family, his work ethic, his allegiance to his partners and clients, and his tremendous sense of fairness.  Even after all he had been through over the last two and a half years, he never wavered in all of those things that made up Joe Egan.  When many other people would have cowered in a corner for a lengthy pity party, Joe trudged ahead and set an example that most of us hope we might be able to accomplish on our very best day.  He served as a constant reminder to me to never give up.  It has been my honor to call him a friend.

My prayers are with Patty, Jenny, Warren, and Joe's extended family and many friends – that you will have the peace that passes all understanding in knowing where Joe currently resides.

I will miss you, Joe.  The world is a better place because you were here.

Susan Montesi
Egan, Fitzpatrick, Malsch & Lawrence, PLLC


Joe was very special to me.  He will forever hold a special place in my heart.  I returned to Virginia from New York in May of 2004 and started working for Joe in September 2004.  Before arriving in Virginia I prayed to God that he would give me a boss who was kind, understanding and sympathetic and he gave me Joe.  When my mom passed in 2005, he was there and I will never forget what he said to me during that time.  After Joe relocated to Florida he would often talk about how good it felt to be able to walk on the beach and stop and smell the air.  He inspired me to pursue my dreams and I relocated to California hoping to have the same feeling that Joe had living in Florida.  I am blessed to have been able to work with such a noble man.  He is and will always be the best boss that ever lived in my eyes.  Please send my condolences to the family. 

Niki Toliver


It’s especially sad that Joe became gravely ill as he was reaching his prime of life. I send my sympathy and condolences to his wife, his children, his parents, and his brother and sisters.

A word about Joe: He was of course a gifted and skillful lawyer. But he also had important human qualities in his work that went beyond that. He was always generous in giving credit to others. And he was always open to other points of view. If you could convince him you had a better argument, he was quick to accept it. He didn’t have any pride of authorship that got in the way of making his team function effectively. He was focused on the result. That’s why we all liked working with him and respected him.

However much I admired Joe for his professional and personal qualities during his career, I have to say I am awed by the way he handled his illness and ultimately his death. The most impressive to me is how clearly he faced his situation and the strength he showed in making decisions to protect his family and his colleagues and his clients. Those of us far away can barely imagine the effort it took for him to keep going. And yet he did, and didn’t ask for special consideration, and continued working and spoke up on calls in a clear voice. In life’s ultimate lap Joe showed himself to be a real man among men in the way that counts most of all. What an extraordinary example he set for the rest of us!

Victor Gilinsky


Joe Egan was a tremendous supporter of the Tripoli Rocketry Association, delivering outstanding legal representation to our organization in a dedicated and tireless manner, as we pursued relief from over-regulation of civilian rocketry activities.  But he was more than our attorney.  He was a rocket enthusiast and a champion for our cause.  Seeing him in action in court, I can attest that he invariably presented our case brilliantly and compellingly.  I will forever remember his calm composure in front of Judges Tatel, Edwards, and Garland of the appellate court, answering their tough questions and conveying our arguments in a clear, effective, and irrefutable manner.  As a result, the court overturned the District Court's previous verdict (granting deference to the BATFE) in an extremely strong opinion in our favor.

Most in my organization never met Joe, but they grew to admire him greatly for his work on our behalf.  I always conveyed to those who did not know him personally, that they would no doubt have liked him had they met him.  He was an extremely intelligent man, endowed with wit, taste, and charm, in addition to an exceptionally sharp legal mind.  He was enjoyable to talk to and to work with, he appreciated and respected what our organization was doing for civilian rocketry, and I think he wished he had more time to fly rockets himself.  I had many opportunities in the past several years to work with Joe in person, on the phone, and in e-mail, and these were always positive experiences.  He was a fine gentleman, and I will miss him.

The thousands of members of the national rocketry organizations he represented are likewise deeply saddened at his loss, and convey their sincere sympathy to Joe’s wife Patty and the entire family.

Ken Good
President, Tripoli Rocketry Association


I always remember how quick and in control he was: the situation was immediately grasped. Most of all, I recall he laughed, and that either terrified the opposition or made his friends feel good [depending on which side of the table you were on].

H.C. Clark


After a loss of this magnitude sometimes it is best to pause and reflect. Once the emotion of shock and grief have passed you by, the real true and tangible measure of the life lived can be accurately reflected on. I met Joe for lunch in a cafe in 1999 and this meeting would completely change my life forever.

My experiences in my governmental service career to that point along with forces beyond my control had placed me into what I believed was a terminal employment situation. Joe quickly recognized, assessed and provided guidance that not only salvaged my career but his firm also later saved the careers of 4 others - who just like me were in the cross hairs of a recoil based system bent on reprisal and example setting, all against those who would be inclined to tell the truth.

History has many examples where a person can demonstrate greatness. From the outside Joe seemingly lived multiple lives all at once, both personal and professional yet still found the time to see past the daily interference that clouds the vision of so many.

Personal first hand accounts are often the most compelling and instructive as to what happened and why. Reflecting back on what happened, to state that Joe's entrance into my life was a form of "Divine intervention" is the only conclusion that I can reach.

In closing It is my hope that Joe's passing at the very zenith of his career will inspire his colleges to continue to reach for greatness, that Joe's achievements will also inspire other up and coming future conselors to also see past the normal business model of standard litigation and to realize that humanity, and kindness integrated into the practice of law is far greater than consistently striving for the "bottom line." Kindness and a dogged desire to do what is right is Joe's real legacy. An example for his peers and a true high water mark for commitment within the legal community.

Phil Borris