Local businesses were today wrongly told that a nuclear leak had taken place at Heysham power station.

Firms surrounding the station were under the impression for about 10 minutes that a real life emergency was under way.

The gaffe took place as a test exercise was carried out at the site and led to people following guidance to stay indoors and take anti-radiation iodine tablets.

A spokeswoman for the station owners EDF Energy said: "EDF Energy carries out regular emergency exercises at all of its nuclear sites to test its emergency arrangements, involving the local emergency services, local authorities and other agencies.

"In a routine exercise at Heysham power stations today the emergency services and local businesses were alerted as if it were a real emergency although it was immediately established that the incorrect warning message had been issued and it was in fact a station exercise.

"No nuclear event had taken place whatsoever. As soon as this was identified, the station issued another message to reassure the emergency services and businesses that it was an exercise not a real event."

Heysham 1 Station Director Ian Stewart said: "We apologise for this mistake and any inconvenience this has caused and we will ensure that our systems and training are reviewed immediately.

"Exercises are a key learning tool and we will ensure that we learn from this experience."

EDF added that a "small number" of businesses were alerted and they later received personal visits from staff to inform them of the mistake and give reassurance.

Nearby Heysham Golf Club was one of those that received the false alarm.

A woman at the club said: "I wasn't here at the time but we got the information through and were told to stay inside and take iodine pills."

Other businesses in the area contacted said they were unaware of today's incident.

A local garage employee said: "This is the first I have heard of it. So it's not the end of the world is it?"