Nuclear power stations across the country are likely to end up as dumps for thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste under plans to be unveiled by ministers in the next few days.
Nuclear sites at Hunterston in North Ayrshire, Torness in East Lothian and Chapelcross in Dumfries and Galloway could all have to build new stores for low level waste. The nuclear complex at Dounreay in Caithness has already applied for planning permission for such a store.
Though the principle of disposing of radioactive waste where it was created is backed by anti-nuclear groups, it may not be welcomed by local communities. Dounreay's planned disposal facility has sparked furious opposition from nearby residents.
The Scottish Executive, along with the government in Westminster, is about to publish a long-awaited strategy for the management of solid low level radioactive waste. UK nuclear sites have amassed 31,000 tonnes of such waste, and are expected to produced at least 2.8 million tonnes more as they are decommissioned.
The waste includes contaminated soil, building rubble and a variety of reactor equipment. It is very bulky, though not as dangerous as the nuclear industry's medium and high level waste, which is due to be buried deep underground at sites still to be decided.
Until now most of Britain's low level waste has been sent for disposal to Drigg, a coastal landfill site near the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria. But the site is nearly full, and ministers sought views last year on what should be done with the waste in the future.
It is the outcome of this consultation that will be announced in the next few days. The Sunday Herald understands that the new policy will pave the way for nuclear sites to take responsibility for their own waste.
Preliminary assessments at nuclear stations in England have suggested that onsite repositories were the "preferred option from a technical perspective". Ministers will also stress the need for flexibility in assessing the best options for each site.
In Scotland this is likely to mean that Hunterston, Torness and perhaps Chapelcross will follow Dounreay's lead and build a low level waste repository. Decisions will also have to be taken on what to do with waste at the nuclear submarine bases at Rosyth on the Forth and Faslane on the Clyde.
Planning applications for new waste stores may not prove popular with local people. The villagers of Buldoo, near Dounreay, have been campaigning vigorously against the repository planned near them.
The prospect of waste repositories at existing nuclear sites was described as "the least worst option", by Stewart Kemp, the secretary of the nuclear-free group of local authorities.
"We have de facto low level radioactive waste dumps at a number of sites and, as an interim measure, it may be best to hold the waste where it is. But some communities involved may want to revisit the proposal in the future."
The first sign that low level waste disposal policy was being rethought came in 2005 when the Scottish environment minister, Ross Finnie, rejected Dounreay's plan to send waste to Drigg. That prompted the operator, the UK Atomic Energy Authority, to develop plans for an onsite repository.
According to Pete Roche, a nuclear consultant in Edinburgh, acceptance that waste shouldn't be transported all over the place was a step forward. "But that doesn't have to mean lots of local waste dumps," he said. "They should be above ground in retrievable and monitorable storage."
Dounreay said that it had applied to Highland Council to build a "modern, engineered facility" for its low level waste adjacent to the site. "We have no plans to receive low level waste from any other nuclear site," stressed a Dounreay spokesman.
"Even with a vigorous waste minimisation programme, decommissioning a site the size of Dounreay will generate significant quantities of low level radioactive waste."
The application is now being assessed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) - a process which is not expected to be completed until late summer 2008. Dounreay will also have to apply separately to Sepa for authorisation to actually dispose of the waste.
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "We expect to publish material on the management of low level radioactive waste shortly."
The new policy on low level waste was published on 26 March 2007, and is available here.
Read an earlier story about contamination at Hunterston here.