Scientists take Government to task

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2007 11:31 am    Post subject: Scientists take Government to task Reply with quote

Scientists take Government to task

by Roger Highfield

The Prime Minister's science advisers mounted an unprecedented attack on the Government for failing to honour a promise to study the risks posed by nanotechnology - the ability to manipulate matter to a billionth of a metre.

Britain's nanotechnology effort is eclipsed by Japan and America, which are poised to take the lion's share of an estimated one trillion dollar world market by in 2015.

The usually low-profile Council for Science and Technology attacked the Government in its Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies Review yesterday, saying it was "extremely disappointed".

The review dates back to July 2004, when a report was published by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Government committed to "an immediate programme of research" and said it "would expect substantial progress to have been made when the CST reviews progress after two years".

However, Prof Sir John Beringer, who chaired the review, said it was "absurd" that the Government has spent an average of only 600,000 a year to research the impacts of nanomaterials over the past few years.

This is compared with total Government funding of 90 million in 2004 to promote and advance research in nanotechnologies.

"There is a pressing need for a strategic programme of central Government spending into the toxicology, health and environmental effects of nanotechnologies," said Sir John, explaining how in the case of carbon nanotubes, there are still concerns that they may act like asbestos, although this fear does not seem to be borne out.

Andrew Maynard of the US Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars, in Washington, said "The UK government deserves a lot of credit for commissioning both the ground-breaking 2004 Royal Society report and for submitting itself to a tough review of its performance since then."

Maynard, who is the chief scientist on the Centre's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, added: "The UK is not alone in falling short on funding for research to address the uncertainties surrounding the environmental, health and safety risks of engineered nanoscale materials."

Ken Donaldson, Professor of Respiratory Toxicology at Edinburgh University, said: 'Scientists who have expertise in understanding the toxicology of particles are ready and willing to carry out the research needed to assess the relative risks of the nanoparticles used in nanotechnology. The Government's delay in supporting this research could come at a high price to a society that still desperately needs the benefit these new technologies could bring in improving our world, fighting disease and facing the environmental challenge'

The Council for Science and Technology is the Government's advisory body on science and technology policy issues and is appointed by the Prime Minister.


Story first posted: 28th March 2007.
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