A U.S. trade delegation returned from Saudi Arabia this week after showing their strong interest in partnering with the kingdom in its ambitious nuclear energy program. 

The renowned oil producer is preparing to build its first nuclear power plant. It announced plans in March to move the country toward zero emission energy as it continues to expand industrial endeavors. The country currently burn an equivalent of 2 million barrels of oil per day to provide residents with electricity.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration previously reported that the Saudis plan to award a construction contract for a 2.8 gigawatt nuclear energy facility by the end of 2018, soliciting bids from five vendors. The U.S. is competing against South Korea, France, Russia and China to win the construction bid.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), in partnership with the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Energy, and State, as well as the U.S. Saudi Arabian Business Council, led the delegation. Officials says they are hoping to foster a relationship that could involve construction of up to 16 nuclear power plants in the near future. Dan Lipman, NEI vice president, Suppliers, New Reactors and International Programs, stressed the importance of this project in a media call.

“It’s going to happen. The question here - which is I think critical for U.S. energy - is: Are we going to be part of this or not?” Lipman said. “Civil nuclear technology is available from a lot of countries. They’re the ones that we’re competing against here. So, they’re going to purchase commercial nuclear power plants from somewhere. And we want it to be from America.”

Lipman said that winning the bid means much more than money, stating that the United States is the most experienced and best qualified for the job. Winning the bid would also ensure that the Saudis adopt the safest, most advanced technology along with operational excellence.

The conversion to nuclear energy and other emission-free sources is part of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 climate goals. Construction should commence on the nuclear plant in 2021 at either Umm Huwayd or Khor Duweihin. Several other Middle East countries are preparing to add nuclear to their energy mix to meet electricity demand from growing populations. Capacity is expected to increase from 3.6 GW in 2018 to 14.1 GW by 2028 as the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia add nuclear power plants.