* Saudi Arabia considering building 17.6 GW of nuclear
* Nuclear drive boosted by economic reform plans
* UAE to start up its first nuclear plant in 2018 (Adds South Korean firms plan to bid for Saudi project)
ABU DHABI/KHOBAR, Saudi Arabia, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has sent a request for information (RFI) to international suppliers to build two nuclear power plants, a first step towards a formal tender, three sources said.
The kingdom is considering building 17.6 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2032, the equivalent of about 17 reactors, making it one of the biggest prospects for an industry struggling after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.
The world's biggest exporter of oil wants to reduce the amount of crude it burns at home to generate electricity so it can sell more of it overseas.
"Saudi Arabia has just sent the request for information to various companies and it is being examined," one industry source told Reuters, adding that firms had about two months to respond.
A second industry source confirmed that Saudi authorities had sent an RFI, which is a request to nuclear vendors to submit non-binding offers to build a nuclear reactor.
"We sent a communication to suppliers," a Saudi official told Reuters without giving details.
One source said Saudi Arabia planned to organise a nuclear conference in Riyadh in coming months.
If a tender proceeds, Saudi Arabia would become the second Gulf Arab state to turn to nuclear power after the United Arab Emirates, which is building four South Korean-designed reactors, with the first due to start in 2018.
The four plants will provide up to 25 percent of the UAE's "clean energy" needs by 2021. UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazroui said on Monday the nation's energy strategy called for more than four reactors to be built by 2050.
Industry sources said Saudi Arabia was reaching out to suppliers from South Korea, China, France, Russia, Japan and the United States for its first two reactors.
French EDF said last month it was in talks with several nations to sell nuclear reactors, including Saudi Arabia. Other potential suppliers are Toshiba-owned Westinghouse , Russia's Rosatom, China's CGN and South Korean firms, such as Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO).
Executive vice president at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co (KHNP), Noh Baek-ail, said South Korean firms would bid as a group for the Saudi nuclear project.
A senior U.S. official said the United States was looking at export opportunities to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and elsewhere.
"We work closely with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we work with them in areas of energy," Edward McGinnis, acting U.S. assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said during the conference.
Saudi Arabia's nuclear plans have received extra momentum from the kingdom's Vision 2030, an economic reform programme launched last year by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall in Abu Dhabi and Reem Shamseddine in Khobar; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Louise Heavens and Edmund Blair)