NO decision on whether to replace the region's nuclear power station will be taken for at least a decade - despite its inclusion on a government 'shortlist' yesterday.

The location of Hartlepool's existing nuclear plant was among eight sites that cleared the first hurdle in the race to build a new generation of nuclear plants.

Three sites were dumped from an original list of potential locations - Dungeness in Kent and Braystones and Kirksanton, both in Cumbria - apparently increasing the likelihood of a new plant at Hartlepool.

But industry insiders told The Northern Echo that EDF Energy, which owns the existing power station, still intended to build only four replacements.

Those four 'Evolutionary Power Reactors' (EPR), to open by 2025, have already been allocated to EDF's sites in Suffolk and Somerset. Two will be built at each.

The source said: "In reality, this announcement makes little difference, because EDF's plans remain the same, to build two reactors in the South West and South East.

"The company is looking at extending the life of the Hartlepool plant through to 2019. Then it will look at the energy landscape early in the 2020s."

As well as Hinkley Point, in Somerset, and Sizewell, in Suffolk, the other six sites on yesterday's shortlist were Bradwell, in Essex, Heysham, in Lancashire, Oldbury, in South Gloucestershire; Sellafield, in Cumbria and Wylfa, in Anglesey.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, said he would back companies who want to build new nuclear plants, provided there is no public subsidy involved.

Yesterday, the Nuclear Industry Association said, with much larger modern reactors, it would be possible to replace half of the present nuclear output by building at just two sites.

Mr Huhne denied he was dumping Lib Dem anti-nuclear pledges, stating he was "fed up" with the choice between renewables and nuclear and insisting the country needed both.

Any applications will not go before a planning inquiry, but will instead be decided by the Energy Secretary according to guidelines to be set out in a new 'national policy statement' (NPS).

Jim Footner, head of Greenpeace's climate and energy campaign, said: "Local democracy is being kicked out of the door when it comes to nuclear sites.

"Lib Dem supporters must be furious that local communities will have little say about nuclear power stations in their area, other than choosing the colour of the gates."

But supporters say a new plant at Hartlepool would safeguard the 600 jobs at the existing power station, as well as creating up to 3,000 more during construction.

However, bigger sea defences must be built. Last year, ministers also admitted that nuclear waste will have to be stored on site for more than 100 years if the go-ahead is given.