Critics Call 'Yucca Mountain Johnny' Propaganda

Congress is weighing the fate of Yucca Mountain Johnny, a smiling cartoon character with a red hard hat, safety glasses and a tool belt. He lives on a government Web site meant to explain to kids how nuclear waste is stored. Critics think Yucca Mountain Johnny is a little biased and are trying to get rid of him.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We are watching closely as Congress considers the fate of Yucca Mountain Johnny. Yucca Mountain is the spot in Nevada where the government hopes to store nuclear waste from power plants. Yucca Mountain Johnny is a smiling cartoon character with a red hard hat, safety glasses and tool belt. He lives on a government Web site meant to explain the project to kids. Critics think Johnny is biased and are trying to get rid of him as NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Yucca Mountain Johnny looks like a hunkier version of Bob the Builder. His Web site has some games and a quiz. True or false: The nuclear waste that would go into the repository could explode? Answer: false. Predictably, Johnny's Web site has some enemies in Nevada.

Representative SHELLEY BERKLEY (Democrat, Nevada): I thought it was an outrageous expenditure of taxpayers' dollars to, quite frankly, propagandize children of this country.

KESTENBAUM: This is Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, a Democrat from Nevada.

Rep. BERKLEY: Think of the tobacco industry and Joe Camel trying to sell tobacco and tobacco products to kids. This is the same thing.

KESTENBAUM: Berkley proposed killing the Web site, and now her proposal has been added to a spending bill before the House.

Rep. BERKLEY: It's time for Yucca Mountain Johnny to get his pink slip. We pink slipped him. He's gone.

KESTENBAUM: The Web site seems to be suffering on its own. Some of the links are dead. Most of the puzzles and games don't have anything to do with nuclear waste. Johnny barely moves. Click on his head and cryptic aphorisms appear, like change your attitude and change the world.

The Web site does stress the importance of dealing with nuclear waste. Imagine what your house would be like if no one ever took out the garbage, it says. Shelley Berkley has had less success killing the Yucca Mountain project itself. She proposed cutting $200 million from its budget, but that was voted down.

Like Johnny, Yucca Mountain is going through hard times. Three years ago, a judge found problems with the radiation limits being used to design the repository; as a result the government has yet to apply for a license.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

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