Nuke plant mountain bike tour

Orange County Register biking columnist David Whiting rides his bike around San Onefre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to check out the sea walls.

I still envision journalists as heroic truth seekers, so I suppose I’m a little disappointed that Whiting let an overeager security guard stop him from shooting photos of the sea wall around San Onofre. Photography rights are pretty wide open in the United States. US law restricts against some nuclear power facility photography from the air or when you’re inside the facility property lines, but Whiting says he was in the tidal zone which, in California, is always public property.

Still, I completely understand choosing discretion over valor; it’s what I would have done, and Whiting was able to still look around, take his notes and write his article, even using the photos he snapped before the guards ordered him “Fotografie ist verboten!” Even when you’re completely in the right, security guards and local police don’t always know the ins and outs of the law and your rights, and you might have spent an evening in jail and received an order to appear before a judge. An attorney will get the charges dismissed, but you’re still horrendously inconvenienced at best.

Photography rights attorney Bert Krages writes specifically about nuclear facilities photography in his book Legal Handbook for Photographers.

The photogaphy of nuclear facilities that have been designated by the government as requiring protection … is prohibited. These requirements apply to photography … on the property or from the air. Photography from outside the property lines is permissible.

If you don’t want to buy the book, he also has a handy-dandy photography rights cheatsheet available for free download from his website. If you do any kind of steet photography or otherwise shoot photos from public places in the United States, you could find the information useful.

Legal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images


  1. Even when you’re completely in the right, security guards and local police don’t always know the ins and outs of the law and your rights

    Now ain’t that some sh*t? If a citizen was to do something wrong without knowledge of the law, the law enforcement official and legal system as a whole would shriek that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” So why do we accept it when a law enforcement professional cannot be cognizant of all of the laws, especially in regards to the limitations on their own actions?

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