Feeds

UK government slated by own boffins on nanotech policy

Teeny stuff, big issues

The essential guide to IT transformation

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". ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
BBC: We're going to slip CODING into kids' TV
Pureed-carrot-in-ice cream C++ surprise
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
Twitter: La la la, we have not heard of any NUDE JLaw, Upton SELFIES
If there are any on our site it is not our fault as we are not a PUBLISHER
Facebook, Google and Instagram 'worse than drugs' says Miley Cyrus
Italian boffins agree with popette's theory that haters are the real wrecking balls
Sit tight, fanbois. Apple's '$400' wearable release slips into early 2015
Sources: time to put in plenty of clock-watching for' iWatch
Facebook to let stalkers unearth buried posts with mobe search
Prepare to HAUNT your pal's back catalogue
Ex-IBM CEO John Akers dies at 79
An era disrupted by the advent of the PC
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?