The first minister has said he wants to see a "massive expansion" of renewable energy use in Scotland.
Hunterston B in Ayrshire, one of Scotland's nuclear power stations
Jack McConnell said that wind and marine power were "Scotland's great asset" and it was well placed to lead the world on renewables.
BBC Scotland understands that such a development could avoid the need for new nuclear power stations in Scotland.
A UK energy review seems likely to recommend more nuclear but it would also see growth in renewable energy.
Mr McConnell said he wants to see a substantial increase in the generation of renewable energy such as offshore wind and marine power to meet future energy needs.
However, the first minister said he was not downplaying the current contribution of nuclear in Scotland.
Existing nuclear stations at Torness and Hunterston would have their lives extended.
BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor said that energy policy was reserved to Westminster but land use planning was devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
If the UK Government decided to press ahead with nuclear plans, the Scottish Executive would be able to prevent new power stations being built in Scotland.
John Robertson, Labour MP for Glasgow North West and chairman of the all-party Westminster group on nuclear energy, said that renewable energy was not a proven solution to the energy gap and "we should not put all our eggs in one basket".
He said Scotland was an "ideal place" to experiment with renewables but Scots were fed up with being "guinea pigs".
Mr Robertson added that the communities around Torness and Hunterston were "quite happy" with their nuclear power stations.
Elaine Murray, Labour MSP for Dumfries, said Mr McConnell should be mindful of the resolution passed at the Scottish Labour Conference earlier this year which favoured a balanced energy policy of new and replacement nuclear build and clean coal as well as the extension of the lifetimes of Torness and Hunterston B nuclear power stations.
She said: "This policy was also strongly supported by the STUC at their conference and has the backing of many sectors of Scottish industry."
Dr Murray added: "I am disappointed that the energy debate has again descended into a renewables versus nuclear argument."
The SNP said Mr McConnell was "running scared" of the nuclear issue and was still to give a clear statement about his nuclear intentions.
The party's Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon said: "Scottish voters need to know whether or not he supports the building of new nuclear power stations in Scotland."
Output from renewable sources would rise under the strategy
The Scottish Greens welcomed Mr McConnell's comments but remained sceptical.
Chris Ballance MSP said: "If this is a genuine shift in McConnell's stance on nuclear then that is to be welcomed - but given his habit of squirming out of making clear statement's on this and a range of other issues, this has to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt."
Maf Smith, of Scottish Renewables, said Mr McConnell's comments came as no surprise, while WWF Scotland's Dr Richard Dixon said the first minister deserved credit for his stance.
A nuclear-free Scotland would make homes and industry more efficient, create jobs and reduce climate emissions, he said.
Dr Dixon added: "With Tony Blair about to try and condemn the rest of the country to a new generation of nuclear power plants, the only sensible response is for Scotland to opt out and capitalise on our huge potential for renewables and energy efficiency."
Friends of the Earth Scotland chief executive Duncan McLaren said Scotland could become a world leader in developing a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy.
"Scotland must therefore not allow itself to be side-tracked by those in Westminster pushing for a new nuclear power programme," Mr McLaren said.