U.K. Criticized for Lack of Nanotech Risk Research

April 2, 2007
A top British advisory body on science and technology criticized the progress that the British government has been making in examining potential hazards in the area of nanotechnology, stating that funding support and effective research strategies have been lacking.

In a review published March 28, the Council for Science and Technology (CST) said that the United Kingdom had taken an early lead in investigating the hazards of nanotechnology by commissioning a 2004 landmark assessment of nanotechnology's hazards, called "Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties." However, according to the council, the British government has fallen behind by not following through with necessary funding for research.

According to professor Sir John Beringer, who chaired the CST subcommittee that examined the British government's progress in nanotechnology risk research, “there is a pressing need for a strategic program” of U.K. government spending in researching the toxicology, health and environmental effects of nanotechnologies.

“Although government has made good progress in many areas, in research the progress has been less satisfactory,” Beringer said. “ ... To put it bluntly, the safe development of a new technology should not depend on whether an academic wins a highly competitive research grant.”

“ ... The CST urges government to take the swift and committed action necessary to regain it,” he added.

Expert: U.S. Also Behind in Nanotechnology Hazard Analysis

Andrew Maynard, science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies in Washington, D.C., commented that the United Kingdom is not alone. Maynard said that it is a lot harder for the U.S. government to develop and sufficiently fund an “internationally coordinated risk research plan for nanotechnology” than it is to know how to fill existing research gaps.

“Altogether, governments in the United States and other nations spend about $5 billion globally each year on nanotechnology research and development,” Maynard said. “If held up to the same scrutiny, their risk research plans and funding levels would earn equally disappointing marks.”

Maynard has suggested that the U.S. government invest a minimum of $100 million over the next 2 years in targeted risk research in order to lay a strong, science-based foundation for safe nanotechnology. According to Maynard's analysis, despite investing more than $1 billion annually on nanotechnology research, U.S. government spending on highly relevant nanotech risk research was only $11 million in 2005.

“With an estimated $2.6 trillion in manufactured goods expected to incorporate nanotechnology globally by 2014, there's a lot at stake in 'getting it right' and in addressing nanotechnology environment and safety questions early,” Maynard said.

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