A unique archive housing records from the earliest days of the UK's nuclear industry is gearing up to open next month.

Located near former nuclear power station Dounreay in Caithness, the Highlands, the facility, named Nucleus (The Nuclear and Caithness Archives), will bring together a vast collection of records, plans, photographs and drawings from sites around the UK.

The £21 million investment by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will also house historic Scottish material from the Caithness Archives, with records dating back to the 16th century.

Records from Dounreay, which is being decommissioned, will be the first nuclear collection transferred to Nucleus from the NDA's 17 sites.

Up to 26 km of shelving will be installed in a series of secure pods to take material that will be transferred from all over the UK.

It is hoped that, during 2017, Nucleus will be granted Place of Deposit status by The National Archive at Kew. Once this is achieved, it will become one of the largest accredited repositories outside London.

Simon Tucker, managing director of NDA Archives Ltd, said: "All our sites have accumulated large volumes of important and valuable records over the decades, some dating back to the 1940s.

"We need to ensure that this information is retained and managed effectively, proactively shared and made accessible, where appropriate to do so, secure and preserved for any and all future requirements."

Nucleus will employ a staff of about 20 including archivists, preservation experts and support staff.

An operation has already been under way for a number of years to retrieve, collate and organise the huge quantities of material that are currently stored at or near individual sites.

The Caithness archives, with records dating back to the 16th century, are already in place.

The doors will open for business on February 14 and will be followed by an official ceremony later in the year.

Archive material will be catalogued, indexed and stored in a carefully-controlled environment, with humidity and temperature kept stable to minimise the potential for deterioration.

Old decaying documents will be transferred to archive-quality paper by on-site preservation specialists and digitised for improved accessibility.

Sellafield alone has more than 80,000 boxes of archived records in off-site storage, plus material on site and in various offices - estimated as stretching, if laid out, to more than 120km worth of paperwork.

The archive will also fulfil an important role for the future geological disposal facility (GDF) that is being developed for the UK, acting as a central repository for detailed waste records that must be safeguarded for many generations.