Feeds

UK government slated by own boffins on nanotech policy

Teeny stuff, big issues

The next step in data security

The UK government has been castigated by its own picked scientists for spending too much on research into developing nanotechnology and not enough on looking into its dangers.

The Council for Science and Technology (CST), "the UK government's top-level advisory body on science and technology policy issues", says the government has committed £90m to the nanotech industry for 2003-09, but only £3m on checking out "toxicology and the health and environmental impacts of nanomaterials".

In a report (pdf) released yesterday, the top-level advisory boffins expressed their disappointment that the government hadn't stuck to its original plans to take a precautionary approach to nanotech development. Indeed, the scientists seemed to feel at times that there was a wider-ranging problem with the UK's attitude to technology.

"CST also wishes to highlight a more generic issue concerning the way in which government identifies, funds, and manages obstacles to the exploitation of new technologies," it wrote. "The balance between research that develops new applications of nanotechnologies and that which provides the necessary underpinning for its safe and responsible development must be addressed."

But the scientists were scrupulously fair, with harsh words for their academic colleagues too.

"There is no guarantee that the research necessary to public safety and the research that interests the scientific community will be identical."

This has been true ever since the first mad professor set up his dungeon laboratory, of course. Any scientist worth his salt would rather work out how to make dead flesh live again than write up the safety case for doing it. Even so, it's nice to see boffins finally admitting this.

The CST certainly isn't bashing the idea of nanotech in general. It admits that "Greenpeace and the Soil Association suggest that a moratorium is a necessary part of any precautionary approach", but it doesn't agree.

This is unsurprising given that one of the report's principal authors, Dr Sue Ion, holds a senior slot at British Nuclear Fuels and the rest seem to be similarly hardcore pro-technology types.

Indeed, one of the CST's main arguments for research into nanomaterial toxicology is that it would allow "nanoremediation", the use of new nano wonder-substances to clean up previous, old-fashioned environmental disasters.

For instance, it seems that PCB contamination might be neutralised using nanoparticles of iron: but it would clearly make sense to find out whether nano-iron is bad for people first. The report recommends a minimum £5-6m per annum of government funding for this kind of research.

Essentially, the CST's idea seems to be that nanotechnology can't develop and be used without a knowledge of the risks and the likely regulatory framework.

The report's authors reckon that as recently as 2004 the UK was "seen as a world leader in its engagement with nanotechnologies". But the British now risk becoming nano also-rans, well-armed with ideas but no idea whether they're safe.

The CST concludes that "the UK is losing that leading position and falling behind in its engagement with this fast developing field, primarily due to a distinct lack of government activity". ®

Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet

More from The Register

next story
Hey, Scots. Microsoft's Bing thinks you'll vote NO to independence
World's top Google-finding website calls it for the UK
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
OECD lashes out at tax avoiding globocorps' location-flipping antics
You hear that, Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.