Europe leads nanotech risk research funding

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European nations are investing nearly twice as much as the US on research into the potential risks of nanotechnology, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (Pen)..

An assessment of nanotechnology risk-relevant projects identified by the US federal government's National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) for 2006 found that around US$13 million was invested in projects highly relevant to addressing possible risks.

Over the same time period, European countries invested nearly US$24 million in similar projects.

The figures were calculated by evaluating research projects listed in the NNI research strategy by their relevance to addressing current and future nanotechnology risks.

Research was classified according to whether it was 'highly relevant' to addressing potential environment, health or safety hazards, 'substantially relevant' or only 'marginally relevant'.

"It appears that the US is guilty of wishful thinking in its assessment of research that will lead to the development of safe nano-technologies," said Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor at Pen.

"It is trying to substitute research that might inform science's general understanding of possible nano-technology risks, for research that is focused on getting answers to direct questions being asked today, such as what makes a nano-material potentially harmful, how can it be used safely, and what happens when it is eventually disposed.

"The US government figure and the results of the Pen assessment show that less than three per cent of the $1.4bn federal nanotechnology research budget was spent on environment, health and safety research."

Draft legislation proposed by Bart Gordon, chairman of the US House of Representatives Science Committee, would amend the NNI act to include a minimum 10 per cent mandate for the nanotechnology federal research and development budget devoted to EHS research in the future, amounting to approximately $150m annually.
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