When my son was about five years old, someone gave him a stuffed frog. We soon noticed something was strange about this frog – it’s legs were sewn on backward. I joked that maybe he lived near Fernald . “What’s Fernald?” my son asked. And we had what is referred to as a ‘teachable moment’ when I told him about the infamous (around Southwest Ohio anyway) nuclear weapons plant that was shut down in 1989 after it was found to be polluting the environment.

So we named the frog “Fernaldo.” Now that my son’s a teenager, Fernaldo is packed away somewhere in the basement with the Pokemon cards and Beanie Babies. I hadn’t thought about Fernaldo in ages – until I read the recent news stories in the AP and Newsweek about Yucca Mountain Johnny, the cartoon character created by the US Department of Energy to help ‘educate’ schoolkids about the nuclear waste site in Nevada.

Johnny’s got his own Web site – the Yucca Mountain Youth Zone. There, kids can play games and solve puzzles and learn all about the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump. How fun! If you put your cursor over the headlamp on his helmet, it even lights up. Drag the cursor over his mouth, and it moves, but no sound comes out. (Insert your own punch line here.)

Apparently Johnny’s nothing new. According to Sourcewatch, he’s just the latest iteration in a decades-long public relations effort by the nuclear industry geared toward the kiddies.

I might just take Fernaldo out of storage today. He, too, may have a bright future ahead as a mascot for the Department of Energy. Especially if he glows in the dark.