Feeds

UK government slated by own boffins on nanotech policy

Teeny stuff, big issues

Reducing security risks from open source software

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". ®

Seven Steps to Software Security

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
Bose says today is F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
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.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.