The future of the first new nuclear power plant in a generation has been thrown into confusion after the Government delayed a decision until the autumn.

French energy giant EDF gave the final approval to go ahead with the £18 billion project at Hinkley Point in Somerset, despite a split in the board, but the Government said it wanted more time to study the details.

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The move stunned the industry and prompted warnings that jobs were at risk, though Government sources insisted the delay had been agreed with the French.

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 megawatt hour of electricity generated.

It is thought there are also security concerns about the role of the Chinese state - which has a one third share in the project - investing in critical infrastructure in the UK.

Prime Minister Theresa May's chief of staff Nick Timothy has previously condemned Chinese involvement in the UK's nuclear sector.

The influential aide wrote on the ConservativeHome website in October 2015 that it was "baffling" that the Government would allow Chinese state firms to invest in sensitive infrastructure.

Mr Timothy wrote that "rational concerns about national security are being swept to one side because of the desperate desire for Chinese trade and investment".

He suggested security experts were worried the Chinese could build weaknesses into computer systems that would allow them to "shut down Britain's energy production at will" and argued against giving a "hostile state" access to the UK's critical infrastructure.

In response to the shocked reaction to the delay, a source said Theresa May and Francois Hollande had discussed the deal during the Prime Minister's visit to Paris last week.

"The timetable was agreed with the French government," a source said, indicating that a decision was expected to be taken in September.

The delay was not announced until after EDF had made its decision because ministers were keen for the energy giant to finally commit to the project, but it was always the case that the Government would have the final say over the deal.

While under David Cameron that would have effectively been a "rubber stamping" of a project he enthusiastically backed, Mrs May's administration wants to look at the project "in the round as part of its industrial strategy".

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"It is ironic it happened so soon after the new government came in. Of course it's right for a new government to want to take time to look at something like this and think through its industrial strategy."

It is a "prudent and pragmatic thing to do," the source said.

But the Government has been warned that thousands of jobs are being put at risk by its "bewildering" decision.

Around 25,000 jobs will be created by the project, which is already years behind schedule.

Justin Bowden, the GMB union's national secretary for energy, told the Press Association: "Theresa May's decision to review the go-ahead is bewildering and bonkers. After years of procrastination, what is required is decisive action not dithering and more delay."

The sector was alerted to the delay by a brief statement from Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark, which 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."

EDF's chief executive Vincent de Rivaz was expected in Somerset 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 state-owned China General Nuclear (CGN) 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."

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Industry groups had welcomed the EDF decision but were soon expressing concern about the fresh delay.