Investing in safe nanotechnology
There is more investment in developing nanotechnological industrial production than in ensuring its safety factors. Representatives of different European sectors attending the EU’s two-day conference on nanotechnology, at Otaniemi, Espoo, 14-15 September, have called for investments in and attention to guaranteeing the safety of nanotechnology development. The conference is working on proposed measures to improve the overall safety of the sector.
The conference, organised by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, European Commission and the Centre of Expertise on micro and nanosystems and active materials, has brought together about 200 representatives of the public sector, science, industry and civil society.
“Stopping risks is especially important both from the angle of protecting people and the environment, but also because consumers’ trust in nanotechnology will ensure its future success”, said Minister Liisa Hyssälä in her opening speech to the conference.
Francoise Roure of the French Ministry of Finance said that public sector means could be productive both to control and to invest in the safe activity of nanotechnology and nanoscience, something that the industry itself would not necessarily develop. “Risk assessment development is the first step towards their control. A low level of trust means low use capacity.”
Dr Thomas Epprecht of the international insurance firm SwissRe stressed the importance of mapping risks, because successful technological innovations are more often based on sustainable rsk control.
Epprecht called for risk assessment methods in the nanosector, as well as efforts to promote terminology, standardisation and cooperation. According to representatives of the International Nanotechnology Council, it is difficult to say where the border between nano and non-nano lies. Common, broad-sectoral risk management and the control linked to it need to be developed. Epprecht believes that open cooperation and communication has to produce quality risk methods that can help improve safety.
Francoise Roure and Thomas Epprecht agree that the issue is not just one of mapping existing risks but of paying attention to people’s fears and doubts, and seriously taking them into account in introducing technologies.
The nanosector is a global one, and the possible risks contained in it and the means of assessing them need to be dealt with internationally. The participation of consumer, environment and other civil society and interest groups in development work, which is done by the public and private sector, is considered important.
Working groups held during the first day of the conference are dealing with proposals for measures that emphasise risk management in nanotechnology and nanoscience. The proposals drawn up by the conference will be dealt with later at a higher European level. Nanoscience features in the EU’s strategy and action programme as offering promising opportunities if it is used safely and responsibly.