News Service: Nanotechnology and its possible risks
have become the focus of attention once more, following
the publication of a newspaper article by the Prince
of Wales calling for the technology to be used 'wisely
comments on nanotechnology by the heir to the UK throne
led newspapers to report that he feared that the world
could be overrun by so called 'grey goo'. In his latest
intervention however, published on 11 July in the
UK's Independent on Sunday, Prince Charles denied
that he ever held such fears.
the record, I have never used that expression and
I do not believe that self-replicating robots, smaller
than viruses, will one day multiply uncontrollably
and devour our planet. Such beliefs should be left
where they belong, in the realms of science fiction,'
states the Prince.
fact, Prince Charles describes the ability to work
on the nano scale as 'a triumph of human ingenuity',
and accepts that the technology is the subject of
huge scientific interest and commercial potential.
how are we going to ensure that proper attention is
given to the risks that may also ensue,' he asks.
'Discovering the secrets of the Universe is one thing;
ensuring that those secrets are used wisely and appropriately
is quite another.'
Charles says that it is important, even at this early
stage, to ensure that risk assessment keeps pace with
commercial development, arguing that more could be
done at EU level to achieve this aim.
is clearly a very fast-moving area of science, involving
many disciplines, yet if we look at the EU's research
programme for nanotechnology, only an estimated 5
per cent of total funding is being spent on examining
the environmental, social and ethical dimensions of
these technologies. That certainly doesn't inspire
confidence,' he said.
Prince's comments were welcomed by the UK academy
of sciences, the Royal Society. Its executive secretary,
Stephen Cox, said: 'The Prince's article is designed
to stimulate public debate about nanotechnology, which
agree with the Prince that researchers, industrialists,
policy makers, campaigners and senior public figures
all share a responsibility not to exaggerate the possible
impacts, either good or bad, of nanotechnology and
to promote informed public debate,' Mr Cox added.
a transatlantic organisation called the action group
on erosion, technology and concentration (ETC Group),
called on 9 July for a moratorium on the use of synthetic
nanoparticles in the lab and in any commercial products
until governments adopt best practices for research.
Thomas, a programme officer for ETC Group, said: 'Only
a handful of toxicological studies exist on engineered
nanoparticles, but not-so-tiny red flags are popping
group dismisses the concept of grey goo as a 'red
herring', but argues that in the emerging field of
nanobiotechnology 'the spectre of 'green goo' poses
an urgent need for foresight and caution.' As a result,
it calls on the international community to establish
a new body to track, evaluate and accept or reject
new nanotechnologies, backed by an international convention
on the evaluation of new technologies.
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