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A review of The Burden

The Burden

A documentary about reducing military petroleum usage

There aren't many movies about military logistics (actually, The Red Ball Express is the only one that comes to mind).

The Burden, a new short (~40 minute) documentary film by Roger Sorkin, shows just how difficult airdrops of oil to remote outposts can be. The soldiers had to protect the drop zone, gather the barrels, and destroy the parachutes (by burning them). Seeing the carnage the truck convoys had to go through was terrifying.

How many experienced, battle-hardened soldiers are pulled off of actively searching for an enemy in order to guard convoys? How many convoys are guarded by inexperienced soldiers who don't know what to look for? And how many convoys are hit by IEDs and never make contact with the enemy? The answer to all three questions is, of course: Too many.

I was delighted to see that the film never once suggested that nuclear power was a viable alternative for the military -- in fact, it never mentioned nuclear power at all. I suppose it was a bit disingenuous not to talk about the burden nuclear power creates, considering that its use is a bigger environmental problem than the petroleum problem. But someone in the audience apparently thought, and others have suggested its use could be increased in order for the military to use less petroleum.

Military nuclear propulsion systems are claimed to be useful because they replace oil, but that's very short-term thinking. During a special screening last night in San Diego, when prompted by the presenter in response to an audience question, the Captain James C. Goudreau, the Navy representative on the panel (which included Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA's 52nd district), Sorkin and several others) did talk about "Small Modular Reactors" but with minimal enthusiasm. SMRs actually have a host of unsolvable problems, such as metallurgy issues, security issues, design/safety issues and, of course, waste storage issues.

The Burden did show a nuclear submarine, and they showed a nuclear aircraft carrier being refueled (with jet fuel, I presume), but thankfully did NOT bother to suggest increasing the nuclear power options in order to try to reduce the petroleum problems. America tried that, and it has created, and is creating, an intractable environmental waste problem we will never adequately solve. A thousand or ten thousand years from now, society will still curse the nuclear age, probably along with the petroleum age. Both ages will have to end if society is to keep going.

It's great that the U.S. military is thinking about the cost of wasting energy on the battlefield, as well as the cost of protecting the petroleum supply lines. But when it comes to nuclear power, they should consider the security and environmental costs of guarding the nuclear waste for tens of thousands of years. Someone will walk off their guard duty, fall asleep, tell an enemy how to break through the system, or become a terrorist themselves during that time, or Mother Nature will overwhelm the flimsy containers (a few inches of steel and a few feet of concrete) they put the waste in.

The American military is the single largest environmentally destructive force in history. It wastes billions of gallons of oil every year. It's time to change that. It may seem strange to talk about an environmentally-friendly strike force, but The Burden makes it very clear -- for the petroleum issue -- that it benefits everyone, even the military itself, for our soldiers to clean up their operation. Hopefully citizens and the military are beginning to understand the same sorts of issues also burden our nuclear military.


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