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UK Uses Web To Gather Nanotech Intelligence

The benefits as well as the risks will be assessed says science minister

The UK government has set up an website to help gather industry and academic information on the issue of nanotechnology as it seeks to develop a strategy around the potentially useful but controversial technology.

In a statement released this week, the science and innovation minister, and chair of the Ministerial Group on Nanotechnologies Lord Drayson called on industry and interested groups to get involved in shaping the UK’s strategy for nanotech.

According to the statement, the aim of the exercise is to ensure that the UK gets “maximum economic, environmental and societal benefit from nanotechnologies while keeping the risks properly managed”. Lord Drayson said that the government is aware of the need to act responsibly when it comes to nanotech. “This new website will let everyone be involved in developing a new UK Strategy by February next year. This will address the exploitation of technologies and management of potential risks,” he said.

Dan Norris MP, minister for rural affairs and the environment said the government had to understand the benefits and potential costs before pushing ahead with any significant plan. “Nanotechnologies could bring real benefits to the economy, society and to the environment. However, we also recognise the need to understand the potential risks and how to manage them. The Government is taking a leading role nationally, in Europe and internationally to bring together existing knowledge and new research to safely harness this technology’s significant potential.”

While the potential of nanotechnology has a lot of industry groups excited – particularly in IT world where it is being used to investigate the potential of smaller computer chips for example – there is also a substantial opposition to the technology. Anti-nanotech campaigners such as ETC Group based in Canada, warn that if left to develop unchecked nanotechnology poises a significant risk to human and environmental health. “While nanotechnology offers opportunities for society, it also involves profound social and environmental risks, not only because it is an enabling technology to the biotech industry, but also because it involves atomic manipulation and will make possible the fusing of the biological world and the mechanical,” the group states.

Highlighting the potential risk to workers from the technology, Department for Work and Pensions minister Lord Mckenzie said:” The HSE will continue to work with government partners to ensure that the health and safety risks to employees in the nanotechnologies industry are properly controlled.”

The nanotechnology site can be found at www.interactive.bis.gov.uk/nano and will be available for contributions until 31 October 2009.