FOR a few short hours yesterday evening, it looked as though a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset had finally been given the green light.

However, the Hinkley saga faced fresh delays after the UK Government last night announced it will review the deal before signing it off, with a decision now likely in 'early autumn'.

After years of delays, the EDF board finally approved the long-awaited final investment decision at a board meeting in Paris to proceed with the £24 billion power plant.

It is understood the board voted 10-7 in favour of the plans for the plant, which would replace Hinkley B when it is decommissioned.

The documents were expected to be signed today and senior EDF officials were being lined up for interviews.

But shortly after EDF's announcement, the Government pulled back from any signing ceremonies - despite Hinkley being one of David Cameron and George Osborne's flagship energy policies.

Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, said: "The UK needs a reliable and secure energy supply and the Government believes that nuclear energy is an important part of the mix.

"The Government will now consider carefully all the component parts of this project and make its decision in the early autumn."

Mr Clark returned from a three-day trade visit to Japan earlier on Thursday and is now expected to spend time studying details of the EDF decision in a move branded "bewildering and bonkers" by the GMB union.

Meanwhile, opponents of the scheme seized on the Government statement to call on ministers to halt the project.

John Sauven, Greenpeace's executive director, said: "Theresa May now has a chance to stop this radioactive white elephant in its tracks.

"She should look at the evidence and see that this deal would be a monumental disaster for taxpayers and bill payers. The UK needs to invest in safe, reliable renewable power.

"The Government should be embracing new innovative technologies that are powering Northern European countries already and coming down in price every year.

"We don't want to be left behind and locked into an old-fashioned nuclear power plant that isn't working anywhere in the world and isn't fit for the 21st century."

On Thursday, campaigners were in Bridgwater protesting over the plan.  

EDF chief executive, Vincent de Rivaz, was among those expected in Somerset on Friday morning alongside senior company officials to give interviews about the project.

But following the government statement it emerged that no interviews would be given. 

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith tweeted: "It's hard to imagine a worse deal than Hinkley Point project. If this pause equals a genuine rethink by Government, that's very good news."

Despite the Government's delay, Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddle-Grainger said he was fully confident the power station would still go ahead.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Liddle-Grainger said: "Yes, it is going ahead, it will happen and now we are just waiting to make sure it is all ready."

Prior to Government's announcement, the EDF decision was welcomed in Somerset.

Councillor John Osman, leader of Somerset County Council, said: “(The) decision by EDF is a very important one.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our businesses, young people and county as a whole.”

And Cllr David Hall, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for business and inward investment, said the scheme would bring around £40 million to the local economy each year.

“This announcement has been a long time coming, but considerable work has been happening behind the scenes," he said.

“I look forward to the Government swiftly making its decision so that we can progress a project that would give an enormous boost to the level of confidence in our local, regional and national economy.

“We will continue our positive and constructive relationship with EDF Energy and partners.

"I am also committed to ensuring that the impacts of this development are addressed and that businesses and communities can benefit from the investment in infrastructure, creation of jobs and skills and supply chain opportunities.”

Hinkley is expected to create 25,000 jobs and will provide 7 per cent of the UK's generation needs for 60 years. It is scheduled to begin generating power in 2025.

Dale Edwards, chief executive of the Somerset Chamber of Commerce, said: “The final investment decision by EDF Energy for the construction of Hinkley Point C is a significant and positive shot in the arm for the South West and South Wales economies.

"The anticipated £18billion investment over the next decade is likely to result in over £100million per year spent in the local economy, providing an important boost for economic growth and job creation. 

“In addition, the project will bring long term opportunities as it will be looked upon as a blueprint for how nuclear power plants will be built in the future, delivering a legacy for Somerset, the South West and the United Kingdom as a whole."

Somerset County Gazette: