FIVE years ago the First Minister branded nuclear power "a busted flush".

However, Scottish Enterprise, the quango that received £233million in Scottish Government funding in 2012-13, apparently holds a different view to that of its paymasters.

The body is to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds of public cash in a project aimed at helping Scottish firms move into the nuclear power industry.

As part of its Nuclear Supply Chain Phase II initiative, Scottish Enterprise has advertised for expert companies to come forward to assist Scottish firms to win business in the sector.

In a document provided to firms interested in winning the three-year contract, worth up to a third of a million pounds excluding VAT, it says that as well as extensive opportunities for businesses to play a role in decommissioning old plants, there is also "considerable commitment to nuclear new-build" in the UK and overseas that could be exploited.

The contract has been offered despite Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing saying last year that support for nuclear was "misguided" after the UK Government announced it planned to build another plant in England. Mr Ewing added that economic powerhouses, including France and Germany, were scaling back or eliminating their reliance on the power source and that investment should instead be diverted to renewable energy sources.

While Scottish Enterprise said it believed the "vast majority" of new activity would involve the decommissioning of old plants, environmentalists have hit out at the agency, accusing it of wasting public money by "chasing the nuclear dream".

Meanwhile, opposition MSPs have accused the SNP of "hypocrisy" after details of the project emerged. Murdo Fraser, energy spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: "The Scottish Government continually argues that nuclear power is declining, yet is now looking for a firm to deliver a programme designed to help businesses take advantage of nuclear power opportunities."

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends Of The Earth Scotland, said he believed the Scottish Enterprise project was "a waste of time", and said the cash would be far better spent on creating jobs in green energy. He said: "Scotland is a world leader in renewable energy but has no useful expertise in new nuclear. Scottish Enterprise should concentrate on playing to our strengths in renewables and not be distracted by the nuclear white elephant."

It is expected the three-year project to assist Scots firms will begin in October. The successful bidder will provide mentoring and expert advice to companies interested in winning business in the nuclear power industry. Although it has ruled out the prospect of any new nuclear plants in Scotland, the Scottish Government said it accepted existing stations were an important part of the current supply of energy.

A Government spokesman said its message on nuclear power was "clear and consistent". He added: "Clearly, where projects proceed, it is entirely correct Scotland's globally-active energy and engineering industries pursue opportunities - generating business, creating jobs and developing transferable skills across a range of sectors.

"For example, considerable decommissioning capability and expertise has been developed at Dounreay. This is expected to represent the vast majority of activity in this sector for firms in Scotland.

"While some governments subsidise another generation of expensive nuclear power stations, Scottish ministers are clear that public investment in new electricity generation in Scotland should focus on renewable energy technologies."

David Rennie, head of oil and gas at Scottish Enterprise, said: "We expect the vast majority of this activity to involve the decommissioning of former nuclear plants; any new-build work will relate to contracts outside Scotland."