Nuclear Waste: A New 'Joe Camel'?

Shelly Berkley, a U.S. rep from Nevada, has identified a new Web threat: Yucca Mountain Johnny, a square-jawed cartoon miner created by the Department of Energy to convince the nation's youth that nuclear waste ought to be stored inside Yucca Mountain. Silver State pols have been fighting the nuke dump at Yucca, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, since the 1980s, and Berkley and other project opponents take issue with Johnny's pushing the initiative on children.

The cartoon serves as a tour guide for the youth section of the DOE Web site, which, along with jigsaw puzzles and a word search, offers "fascinating information about radioactive waste and the Yucca Mountain Project"; a live-action Johnny has even made appearances at Nevada schools. "There's nothing cute or cuddly about it," says Berkley. "Yucca Mountain Johnny is the Department of Energy's Joe Camel. And the product he's peddling is just as toxic." DOE spokesman Craig Stevens says, "Yucca Johnny teaches hydrology, geology and earth science. This education campaign is part of our duty to explain to the public what we're doing."