Construction of the new £18bn nuclear power station Hinkley Point C has been delayed by the UK government, just hours after partners EDF Energy approved the project.
Representatives of EDF and its Chinese partner were already in the UK preparing for a contract signing ceremony, BBC Radio 4 reported.
If built, Hinkley Point is expected to contribute 7% of the UK’s electricity on its scheduled completion in 2025.
In a statement issued late Thursday night, energy secretary Greg Clark said the new government needed time to “consider carefully” the project and would make its decision in early autumn.
The unexpected announcement came the same day EDF’s board of directors narrowly voted in favour of funding Hinkley Point.
This is the latest in a long series of delays, most recently in March when EDF's financial chief resigned over the project.
EDF, 85% owned by the French state, also faces opposition from unions within France.
The project has been subject to criticism in the UK for both its cost and for the role of China’s state-owned nuclear group.
If given the green light EDF would provide 66.5% of the finance for Hinkley Point, with the rest of the money coming from the China General Nuclear Corporation.
The power station would then be subsidised through a fixed energy price of £93 per megawatt hour for the first 35 years. The average wholesale price for electricity in 2015 was £41 per megawatt hour according to energy watchdog Ofgem.
There are concerns the UK could fail to meet its energy demands without Hinckley Point.
Tom Greatrex, Nuclear Industry Association chief executive, said: “By 2030, two thirds of our electricity generation capacity will have retired, and we need to replace it with low carbon and reliable power for the future.”
Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, also said the government should “press ahead to finalise the deal” to “send a definite message that the UK is well and truly open for business”.
However, Karla Hill, director of programmes for the NGO ClientEarth, said Hinkley Point would over-centralise the UK's power production, “when the government should be creating a flexible, decentralised system”.
“This postponement gives the government the opportunity to look at the future systems the UK really needs,” she added.
Professor Tooraj Jamasb, co-director of the Durham Energy Institute, said: “Regardless of the government’s decision to postpone any ruling on Hinkley, other foreign investors will not be put off even if the project is cancelled, given the important issues surrounding it.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.