Don’t panic! Don’t panic! Apparently, only 18,000 litres of the 30,000 litres of the liquid containing uranium spilled by French nuclear ‘experts’ Areva at the Tricastin nuclear site this week reached the ground and the Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers in southern France.

Now, call us cynical if you like but this is a definition of ‘only’ we’ve been unaware of up until now. ‘Only’ 18,000 litres out 30,000 containing 224 kilograms of unenriched natural uranium. We’re sure this ‘only’ comes as a great comfort to the local residents who’ve been told not to drink well-water, water their crops or swim or fish in the rivers.

Let’s have one or two other ‘only’s, shall we? This weeks leak constitutes ‘only’ 130 times the level this reactor alone is permitted to release in an entire year. Read that again. In a single day Tricastin leaked 130 times its permitted annual allowance. It was ‘only’ a faulty valve and a damaged retention tray that caused the leak

France’s nuclear safety agency said the uranium solution was toxic but only slightly radioactive. And that’s supposed to be reassuring is it? Thousands of litres of the stuff find their way into two tributaries to the Rhone, one of Europe’s largest rivers, but it’s ‘only’ toxic and ‘only’ slightly radioactive even though the radioactivity levels caused by the leak are 6000 times higher than regulatory limits allow.

It’s fortunate for Nicolas Sarkozy that he made his speech announcing France will build a second European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) last week and not this week when industry incompetence disproved the lie – yet again – that nuclear energy is clean and safe. If ‘only’ it was.