Ecosicence: Debunking the Hazards of Alternative Energy Sources

The conclusions of the Inhaber Report, which found alternative energy sources to be riskier than conventional sources, was based on factual omissions, bogus assumptions, and erroneous calculations.

| September/October 1979


Anne and Paul Ehrlich expose the flaws in the Inhaber Report attacking alternative energy sources.


In our column "In Defense of Non-Conventional Energy Sources" we gave an overview of the "Inhaber Report" scandal, an attempt by the Canadian Atomic Energy Control Board (abetted by various prestigious journals and scientists) to foist the results of a hopelessly flawed study upon the public. The report—entitied Risk of Energy Production (AECB1119) — written by Herbert Inhaber, purports to show that solar energy sources are nearly as dangerous to human beings as are conventional sources (such as coal) and more dangerous than is nuclear energy!

Because we know that MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers are interested in alternative energy sources, this column will attempt to describe—in detail—how biased data selection was combined with incredible bungling to reach AECB-1119's preposterous conclusions.

A Comprehensive Comparison?

First, Inhaber claims to have tallied up the direct health risks—to workers and to the public—brought about by the construction and operation of conventional and nonconventional energy sources. He claims to count accidental deaths and injuries, disease, and all phases of the fuel cycle (such as, for example, acquisition of the raw material to build energy facilities, the manufacture of components, the construction of power plants, the mining of fuels, plant operation and maintenance, and the disposition of wastes).

This approach (while of some use if carried out successfully) omits the impact of the energy sources in question upon human well-being through disruptions of climate, of ecosystems,. and of sociopolitical affairs. Yet such "indirect" damages (including the loss of agricultural productivity due to climate disruption by fossil fuel-produced carbon dioxide, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons induced by the spread of nuclear reactors) put far more human lives in danger than do "direct" accidents and pollution-induced illness.

Even among those environmental risks that he did consider, Inhaber omitted many important phenomena. Public disease, for example, appears in the report in only two forms: as days lost from work—and premature deaths—from respiratory illness associated with emissions of sulfur oxides in the presence of particulates, and as days lost due to cancer caused by radiation from nuclear power plants.

Inhaber offers no estimate of the disease effects of the oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbons, or trace minerals (mercury, lead, cadmium, nickel, etc.) that are emitted when fossil fuels are burned; entirely neglects to mention public disease caused by water pollution from contamination by the hydrocarbons and the trace metals that are released during extraction, processing, and transportation of fossil fuels; and he ignores all of the diseases and genetic effects that may appear in future generations as a result of nuclear-power-produced radiation or chemical mutagens from fossil fuels.

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