The Government has been warned that thousands of jobs are being put at risk by its “bewildering” decision to pull back from signing a deal to build the first new nuclear power station in the UK for a generation.
French energy giant EDF gave the final approval to go ahead with the £18 billion project at Hinkley Point in Somerset (HPC), although its board was split.
The deal had been expected to be finalised on Friday but the Government stunned the industry by saying it wanted more time to study the details.
Around 25,000 jobs will be created by the project, which is already years behind schedule.
There was speculation that Prime Minister Theresa May was involved in the move to allow time to study the details before any deal is signed and sealed.
Critics believe the Government has been stung by criticism of the amount of money EDF will be paid for generating power from Hinkley - £92.50 per unit of electricity generated.
Justin Bowden, the GMB union’s national secretary for energy, told the Press Association: “Theresa May’s decision to review the go-ahead on HPC is bewildering and bonkers. After years of procrastination, what is required is decisive action not dithering and more delay.
“This unnecessary hesitation is putting finance for the project in doubt and 25,000 new jobs at risk immediately after Brexit. It is a gross error of judgment and must be reversed.
“Building Hinkley will not on its own make up for successive governments’ failure to have in place a coherent energy policy, but it is a very important step along that road and, as GMB has been warning now for months, the country’s energy capacity is already so fragile that if we have a cold winter there is a high likelihood we will experience power cuts.
“The ramifications of this foolish delay are far wider than putting our energy needs in jeopardy - they will immediately call into question other major infrastructure projects coming down the line like HS2 and Heathrow/Gatwick expansion.”
Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said in a brief statement: “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.”
EDF’s chief executive, Vincent de Rivaz, was 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 take place.
Officials from China General Nuclear (CGN), which has a stake of a third in the Hinkley project, had also been expected to attend an event.
A statement said: “We respect the new Government’s need to familiarise itself with a project as important to the UK’s future energy security as Hinkley Point C and we stand ready to help the Government in this respect.
“CGN remains committed to delivering this much-needed nuclear capacity with our strategic partners, EDF, and providing the UK with safe, reliable and sustainable energy.”
Industry groups had welcomed the EDF decision on Thursday night but were expressing concern about the fresh delay on Friday.
Shadow energy secretary Barry Gardiner claimed Mrs May could have delayed the project because of the recent financial involvement of the Chinese.
He said the Government was right to review the terms of the deal and should seek to ensure better value for the taxpayer, rather than scrapping it altogether.
EDF could not afford to quit the project if the UK put forward new terms, he added.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “The French government is far too committed to this project.
“The Chinese have come in for a third of the cost - that is another thing the Government must review in the project.
“I believe Theresa May has probably pulled it back because of that very involvement.”