Cartoon to be fired?

For those who think the government’s arguments for the proposed Yucca Mountain dump are cartoonish, it may be bad news that a cartoon symbol of the project may be fired. On an amendment sponsored by U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, a Democrat, the U.S. House has voted to cut off funding for “Yucca Mountain Johnny,” a cartoon figure used to sell the project to children.

The figure is used at, a site that has a number of items at a supposed child’s level to explain nuclear waste storage generally and Yucca Mountain in particular. For instance, there is a page on “Using Science to Solve the Problem” (though no page on the more directly relevant “Using Politics to Solve the Problem") and a page of games and activities. A couple of quizzes for middle school and high school students to take after reading the other material are somewhat poorly designed, with several incomplete questions—"If we were to take all the nuclear waste produced to date in the United States and stacked it side by side"—and an occasionally inoperative link to a list of the quiz answers. Some of the questions have subjective answers, but the true/false quiz assumes certainty in all its answers. There appears to be only one cartoon image of Johnny, but it appears again and again.

Berkley’s amendment seeks to get rid of the cartoon character by getting rid of the children’s Web site altogether. Her amendment was attached to a spending bill that faces a veto, so the cartoon character may make a comeback later in the legislative process. The amendment was approved on a voice vote, which can mean that the House hall was basically empty at the time of the vote.

In a written statement, Berkley called the image a “nuclear version of Joe Camel” and added, “Our children deserve to know the truth about the dangers of nuclear waste, but all they get from Yucca Mountain Johnny is a one-sided tale designed to convince them that it’s OK to turn Nevada into a radioactive garbage dump.”

In a more substantive vote, the House voted 351-80-6 against an amendment sponsored by Nevada Rep. Jon Porter, a Republican, to eliminate all language in the bill that provided for nuclear waste storage. It would have killed $202 million in construction funding.