DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates will tender shortly for the construction of a new nuclear power plant that would double the number of the small Gulf state's nuclear reactors, three sources familiar with the matter said.

The UAE, a U.S. security partner, became the first Arab state to operate a nuclear power plant when in 2021 it opened in the South Korean-built Barakah facility in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE plans to seek bids this year, potentially within the next few months, to build four new reactors, the sources with direct knowledge of the matter said, requesting anonymity to discuss details that are still private.

The sources said the UAE aims to award the tender and start construction as soon as this year so that the new plant would be operational by 2032 in order to meet projected energy needs.

The tender would be open to any potential bidders, including U.S., Chinese and Russian firms, the sources said, adding that South Korea would not be treated as a preferred bidder.

Asked about plans for a second plant, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) said it was ready to review and issue the necessary licences and regulations that would be needed when and if the government decides to build new plants.

The UAE energy ministry referred Reuters to FANR for comment.

State-owned Emirates Nuclear Energy Co (ENEC), which owns the Barakah nuclear power plant, referred Reuters to a public statement it ran in January stating that it was,"focused on exploring opportunities in the UAE and overseas to maximize the full value of the expertise developed in nuclear mega project program delivery and technology deployment, subject to confirmed demand, and approvals from the relevant UAE authorities."

The UAE government media office did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Russia is a big player in nuclear reactor construction, along with China which is rapidly scaling up its global nuclear energy ambitions.

If Russia or China were selected as bidders for the UAE plant this could potentially create tensions with the U.S., which has sought to isolate Moscow over the Ukraine invasion and has become increasingly concerned over the Gulf states' deepening ties with Beijing.

The UAE, which signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with the U.S. in 2009, says its nuclear programme is peaceful and solely for energy purposes to decrease its reliance on oil.

It was one of the countries that signed an agreement at the United Nations climate conference held in Dubai late last year to triple global nuclear energy output over the next three decades.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Egypt is developing its first nuclear plant, built by Russia. Saudi Arabia has ambitions for a civilian nuclear programme but has refused so far to sign a cooperation agreement with the U.S. that would block the Gulf state from enriching uranium.

The South Korean-built Barakah nuclear power plant, located in Abu Dhabi on the coast towards Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is expected to provide a quarter of the country's electricity.

The fourth and final reactor of the Barakah plant is due to start commercial operations this year, bringing the nuclear power plant to full operating capacity.

Locations under consideration for the new nuclear plant include a coastal site nearer to the border with Saudi Arabia, sources said.

It could also be built closer to the existing plant at Barakah, they said.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Maha El Dahan. Editing by Jane Merriman)