Comment: Britain, China face challenges together

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, comments on the importance of Britain and China working together to face global challenges.

Britain, China face challenges together

by Professor Sir Keith Burnett, 10 July 2015, published in China Daily

Fusing international efforts needed to unlock potential of nuclear power, a global priority

Environmental sustainability is one of the greatest challenges facing our planet. The impact is seen around the world: In changing climates, in incidences of increased flooding, and in cities that struggle to breathe.

As humanity asks itself what it must do to make a change, we know China can lead the world to a greener future. Reliance on fossil fuels must decrease, driving toward a low-carbon future and the development of an energy source that can reliably deliver at scale to serve modern society: Nuclear power.

China has the capability to lead the world to a more sustainable future on its own. What is certain is that our planet will not be greener without its involvement. And moreover, we can achieve so much more - and at speed - if we work together.

Let's remember just why this is so important. A man I greatly admire, the globally respected financier and environmentalist Jeremy Grantham, has explained that a world that fails to address the challenges of sustainability is one that is imperiling its own future.

China has the capability to lead the world to a more sustainable future on its own. What is certain is that our planet will not be greener without its involvement. And moreover, we can achieve so much more - and at speed - if we work together.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett

Our environment can crash just as surely as a financial system. Without securing this, our world is exposed at every level. We cannot develop and grow to become the balanced economies we wish to become without addressing the urgent need for cleaner air and a more reliable climate.

Unlocking the potential of nuclear energy is a global priority. To do so means conservation of carbon-intensive fuels and a cleaner future for global citizens.

Some think truly sustainable and reliable energy is a pipe dream. But the work of companies such as Forgemasters and Rolls-Royce at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, a crucible of international collaboration in the UK, rebut this claim.

Rolls-Royce stands ready to make nuclear power plants as safe and as commonplace as the beautiful aero-engines that fly across the world's skies. This vision of a common nuclear future rests on industry collaboration and on the ideas of gifted people.

Mike Tynan, leader of the center, is a man whose entire life has been committed to delivering safe civilian nuclear power. His father was one of the workers who watched the first nuclear power in the world enter the grid - part of a generation that worked hard to make the technological advances that helped to build modern society through nuclear energy. Now his son is helping create a new legacy for the world by building the next generation of nuclear technologies.

As technologies and affluence change society, a new generation thinks beyond national borders. We have never needed that more. In the UK, I see hands of collaboration are now reaching out to the most powerful engine of economic development the world has ever seen: China.

Our leading industry experts at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, who have seen the competition in nuclear technology develop over the decades, know that it is important to join with China's plan to share the best technology with nations the world over.

I, too, am personally committed to this mission, for I have seen with my own eyes the intellect and courage of our Chinese students, academics and colleagues, and know just what happens when Chinese dynamism is wedded to the particular experience of quality manufacturing and innovation for which the UK is rightly known.

Our students are keener than ever to solve the sustainability challenges that the world faces by fusing international efforts. Chinese students make up the largest cohort of overseas students in the UK and have the latest science and technology at their fingertips. This is a giant asset.

I would appeal to people to see how deeply serious we are and open to the possibilities of exporting British-Chinese nuclear power to the world. I want to do it for the children of the United Kingdom who will benefit from the clean power and economic benefits this will bring, and also for the children of China who I hope will become partners in a great endeavor. We cannot achieve this in isolation.

This is the right time to turn challenge into opportunity. The UK can make the next generation of nuclear technology in partnership with China. I hope it will fire the starting gun of a joint Olympic race - perhaps a long-distance one - to a greener, better world.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett is a member of the UK prime minister's advisory council on science and technology. He is also a member of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and a recent recipient of China's Individual Performance Excellence Award.