What's new?or news, that is?at San Onofre? To those concerned about nuclear safety, it might be the possibility that a cooling system breach could create so much debris that it would clog the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations'(SONGS) emergency cooling systems. Or it could be that placement of spent nuclear fuel rods from the decommissioned Unit 1 into 18 dry casks for long-term on-site storage has begun, increasing the storage capacity in existing pools holding spent radioactive fuel rods. Daily newspaper readers in nearby Orange County, however, are more likely to be concerned about the great white sharks sighted this summer or the latest long-board surfing competition on the beach below the nuclear power complex. Southern California's major newspapers have provided readers only spot news on nuclear safety issues at San Onofre, largely written by reporters who have not followed nuclear power issues in any systematic fashion, according to nuclear watchdog groups. "[Reporters] have not done any independent work," said Rochelle Becker, a spokesperson for Mothers for Peace, a grassroots nuclear watchdog group based in San Luis Obispo. Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, another watchdog organization, added, "General assignment reporters really are stuck with the initial journalistic premise that established voices are where you go for comments." The SONGS facility, he said, appears to be outside "jurisdictions in media interest." The nuclear complex?located just south of Orange County?is in an undeveloped area of San Diego County near the Camp Pendleton Marine Base. Not perceived as being in Orange County, and isolated from the population of San Diego County, the facility seems all but forgotten except by the surfers in the waves below and the motorists who whiz past on Interstate 5. The one exception to the virtual media blackout is when Southern California Edison, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), or the state issues a news release or announcement about the nuclear power facilities. For instance, a successful test of the emergency sirens at the plants drew headlines in the <i>Orange County Register<\/i> after it was announced in an October 10, 2002, company news release. The distribution of potassium iodide pills to area residents in response to 9\/11, which was publicized by the state, generated a spate of stories in both the <i>Register<\/i> and the <i>Los Angeles Times<\/i>. A series of NRC notices of violation issued to the company in 1998 and 1999 for safety hazards did not garner one word in the popular daily papers. There were no news releases on the violations, which included an NRC notice in 1999 for an inoperable diesel backup generator needed to provide power to the nuke for control in the event of an emergency. The other notice was for losing a security contingency plan, failing to secure "contingency weapons," losing security computers, and failing to supply emergency power to a security system. The lack of coverage on the violations occurred even though the Nuclear Control Institute and the Committee to Bridge the Gap issued a news release that same year, criticizing the nuclear industry and the NRC for lax preparations against potential terrorist attacks at the dawn of the new millennium. Readers of both the <i>Times<\/i> and the <i>Register<\/i> in 1999 did learn about the successful emergency-response drill held at the complex. To its credit, the Register covered a loss of power to one reactor's cooling system that year based on an emergency notice that Edison issued to the community. A year earlier, the NRC issued a notice of violation to Edison for failing to maintain air conditioning potentially needed to keep plant control instruments operable, but newspaper readers never found out. Instead, Register readers learned that Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) lauded the company for its Y2K preparations when he toured the complex in May. Coverage picked up after 9\/11, with several stories in each paper focusing on the potential for terrorist attacks and Edison's troubles with shipping the reactor vessel of decommissioned Unit 1 to Barnwell, South Carolina. Victor Dricks, NRC Region IV public affairs officer, said there also has been community concern regarding the movement of the spent fuel rods from the decommissioned units into dry casks. The <i>Times<\/i> did pick up on the story reported in the September 19 edition of <i>California Energy Circuit<\/i> on the danger of a potential emergency cooling system clog at the San Onofre plants. However, the <i>Times<\/i> has yet to report on the movement of the fuel rods. That phase of decommissioning Unit 1 will take several months. The story was written by <i>Times<i> writer Dan Weikel, who covers transportation and just started covering environmental issues in Orange County. He said he learned about the sump clog problem from another reporter who receives the Society of Environmental Journalists daily news roundup, which included a link to California Energy Circuit's article on the safety hazard at SONGS. "It isn't intense, constant coverage," said Weikel of how the <i>Times<\/i> handles nuclear safety issues. While the paper has numerous environmental reporters, he said that none specializes in nuclear industry issues. "Generally, nuclear safety issues are inadequately covered by the news media," said Bryce Nelson, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication. "It seems boring. They're difficult stories to do in a day." Moreover, said Nelson, who covered the accident at Three Mile Island for the <i>Los Angeles Times<\/i> earlier in his career, editors and publishers do not perceive nuclear regulatory issues to be of public concern until there is a disaster.