Complicating things, science is quite divided on how to assess nanotechnology materials and applications. Consequently, as the public discussion about the regulation of nanotechnology in general, and nanomaterials in particular, heats up, emerging opinions on the applicability of existing regulation differ substantially and so do views on which regulatory options best address the current lack of information about environment, health and safety risks of nanomaterials, as well as the regulatory uncertainty and concerns expressed by the politicians, members of the public and industry, and investors. A new, two-part survey outlines the different frameworks policy makers have developed.
The code of conduct for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnologies research (code of conduct) is the Annex to the first nanotechnology-specific legal measure by the EU (2008), a Commission recommendation that is legally nonbinding. The nanotechnologies code of conduct contains principles and guidelines for integrated, safe and responsible (ethical) nanosciences and nanotechnologies research. The central control mechanisms are research prioritisation, technology assessment, ethical and fundamental law clauses/restrictions, defensibility checks and accountability.
Will nanotechnology impact future global security? According to Jayshree Pandya, such technology is indeed about to change large-scale security dynamics, defense policies and possibly even the global balance of power. All states are eager to benefit from nanoscience, nano-engineering and nanotechnology initiatives - either directly or indirectly. While most states do not yet have dedicated nano-defense initiatives, rapid advances within the aforementioned fields are exciting many and becoming a cause of concern for the rest.
A new report, which reviews the history of nanotechnology research and development at NASA over the past 15 years, shows that NASA is the only U.S. federal agency to scale back investment in this area. The study argues that nanotechnology has the proven capability of revolutionizing most areas of technology that will be critical to NASA's future missions: The agency needs a bolder plan for R+D to match the requirements of those missions and to recapture its place at the forefront of nanotechnology. But it's not as if NASA doesn't have any ideas as to how nanotechnologies could be used to advance space technologies. In 2010, the agency drafted a 20-year Nanotechnology Roadmap as part of its integrated Space Technology Roadmap. According to this document, nanotechnology can have a broad impact on NASA missions.
Labelling is a central regulatory tool for risk governance. It aims at meeting a number of goals: It should enable consumers to make informed purchase decisions, avoid consumers being misled and promote innovation. Hence, consumers take part in the risk management of different product groups. Labelling of nanotechnology products has been part of the early discussion on nanotechnology regulation, both at national and EU level. Member states have refrained from independent national initiatives. However, nano-specific labelling obligations have been adopted in European law for cosmetics, food and biocidal products. In contrast, international initiatives for voluntary labelling have not succeeded on the market.
There is currently no clear evidence that engineered nanoparticles pose a significant threat to the environment. Nonetheless, major gaps in our knowledge exist. The present dossier illustrates the problems in the field of environmental analytics, presents the current state of knowledge on the fate and behavior of ENPs in various environmental compartments and provides an overview of the preliminary results from ecotoxicological research and from model calculations of exposure assessments. At present, ecotoxicological research focuses primarily on controlled laboratory studies involving cell cultures or model organisms. One of the major critiques here is the use of unrealistically high dosages1 Overall, no definitive conclusions can be drawn on whether environmental damage can be expected or not.
Nanotechnology products, processes and applications have the potential to make important contributions to environmental and climate protection by helping save raw materials, energy and water as well as by reducing greenhouse gases and problematic wastes. Great hopes are being placed on nano-technologically optimized products and processes that are currently under development in the energy production and storage sectors. Emphasis is often placed on the sustainable potential of nanotechnology, but this in fact represents a poorly documented expectation. Determining a product's actual effect on the environment - both positive and negative - requires considering the entire life cycle from the production of the base materials to disposal at the end of its useful life. Not every 'nano-product' is a priori environmentally friendly or sustainable, and the production of nanomaterials often requires large amounts of energy, water and environmentally problematic chemicals.
A commentary by Steffen Foss Hansen and Anders Baun in this week's Nature Nanotechnology pointedly asks "when will governments and regulatory agencies stop asking for more reports and reviews, and start taking regulatory action?" The two scientists take issue with yet another scientific opinion on nanosilver that has been requested by the European Commission in late 2011: "SCENIHR - Request for a scientific opinion on Nanosilver: safety, health and environmental effects and role in antimicrobial resistance". Specifically, the EC wants SCENIHR to answer four questions under the general heading of 'Nanosilver: safety, health and environmental effects, and role in antimicrobial resistance'. These questions, however, have already been addressed by no less than 18 review articles in scientific journals.