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New report on risks and rewards of nanotechnology



Allianz Group
London / Ismaning, Jun 3, 2005

The Allianz Group has published the conclusions of a joint study with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, into the opportunities and risks of nanotechnology (nanotech).

Axel Theis, CEO of Allianz Global Risks, comments: "This report shows that nanotech will underpin many of the most important technical and industrial advances of the early 21st century. However its huge scope for beneficial developments must not mask any risk from nanotech to the people who use it or the environment in which it operates."

He adds: "Allianz believes that it would not be appropriate to create a general exclusion of nanotech from insurance coverage. However, a general 'wait and see' attitude is also not an option. As a responsible insurer, Allianz has worked with the OECD in this report to stimulate an early, active and positive response to nanotech-related risks from all parties involved."

Small scale, huge investments

Nanotechnology is the process by which operations are undertaken on the nanometer scale (one thousand millionth of a meter). A red blood cell is 7,000 nanometers wide but this is large compared to a water molecule at just under 0.3 nanometers across.

However, whilst the dimensions are small, the investment is not. The OECD reports that research & development has high priority on national science agendas of member countries. The US, Europe and Japan each spend between 500 million and one billion US dollars a year on nanotech.

From energy to clothes and cosmetics

Examples of current nanotech projects cover agriculture, food, health, semiconductors, textiles and energy sectors. Developments include targeted drug delivery, nano-sensors in packaging to monitor content, stain and wrinkle resistant cloth, micro-batteries and ultra-capacitors. Already established uses include self-cleaning glass, protective coatings on sunglasses, sunscreens and cosmetics.

The OECD reports that nanotech markets are estimated to reach a value of trillions of US dollars within the decade. However, these values are based on projections including nanotech-based production techniques and those that incorporate only some nano-components.

Diverse opportunities, diverse risks

However, such a wide cross-section of opportunities could bring equally diverse and technically wide-ranging risks. From health to the environment, there is scope for nano-particles not only to present traditional risks but also novel problems.

There is a gap between the scope for innovating new uses for nanotech and the corresponding understanding of the consequent risks to humans and the environment. Additionally, the impact of an exposure to humans may not be directly evident till many years later, leading to similar problems as were experienced with asbestos and benzene (an aromatic component of gasoline which has been found to cause cancer).

New global approach to risk management

As one of the leading industrial insurers globally, the Allianz Group believes it has both the technical depth and specific risk management experience to engage with the risks an emerging industry presents.

However, it identifies a need for a new approach for addressing risk in emerging industries. This allows all concerned stakeholders, such as consumers, governments across the globe, the financial community, academic institutes, private and public sector research & development organizations and industries across all sectors, to debate, identify and address the risk options. This brings the insurer into the process much earlier than has traditionally been the case.

Axel Theis comments: "Through this process, a knowledge base can be built that mirrors the risks as they develop. This will enable all nanotech stakeholders to encourage uptake of sensible risk solutions at all the appropriate stages. Insurers can then be confident in preparing their response to the risk profiles."

Positive insurance strategies enable future growth

Without this approach, as the proportion of risks in the portfolio increases, a critical stage could be reached where insurance can either block or facilitate growth, dependent on whether it considers nanotechnologies to be acceptable risks.

By undertaking and publishing this report, Allianz has tried to forestall this event, encouraging the risk profile of nanotechnology to be assessed as far in advance of this critical stage as possible. This, the company believes, will facilitate formulating the most pertinent risk management strategy, involving all the relevant stakeholders in the future of nanotechnology.

Axel Theis says: "The aim is to achieve the most positive risk management environment for nanotechnology. This will underpin a successful and sustainable future in which the appropriate insurance can take its place for ultimate financial security

Regulation, risk awareness and independent research needed

The report concludes that, despite issues over the safe implementation of new nanotechnologies, it should be possible to predict key areas of concern and manage them competently. Allianz and the OECD therefore make the following recommendations to all nanotechnology stakeholders for future high priorities:

- Independent research into the risk of nanoparticles, exposure routes and their effect on humans and the environment
- A balanced approach to scientific innovation and public safety concerns
- Expanding traditional areas of competence by referencing multi-disciplinary knowledge across economic sectors, institutions and borders
- Strengthening of the evidence base regarding the safe handling of nanoparticles
- Development of comparative risk classification schemes and databases
- Focusing attention of underwriters and risk managers on the critical issues
- Bringing the discussion of nanotechnology to the forefront of insurance
- Foster a dialogue-oriented approach which makes good use of reviews by independent organizations
- Using sustainability as a criterion for vision and success
- Developing a suitable regulatory framework to enable the industry to operate sustainably but safely.

Download report : Small sizes that matter: Opportunities and risks of Nanotechnologies (pdf, 2,7 MB)


This story has been adapted from a news release -
Diese Meldung basiert auf einer Pressemitteilung -
Deze tekst is gebaseerd op een nieuwsbericht -


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