Nanotechnology and the need for risk governance
Journal of Nanoparticle Research
Vol. 8, Num. 2
Nanotechnology as an emerging technology has offered a wide rage of benefits, including a broad platform for technology, the reversal of specialization in fields, a stimulation of funding, a new set of manufacturing capabilites, a new speed and scope for R&D, and a conceptual driver for economic change and competition. Projecting into 2020, the authors suggest a four-generation development of nanotechnology, moving from passive to active structures.
Governance is necessary, but there are distinct deficits of the risk governance process today. Nanomaterials in the workplace are not measured and assessed adequately and the knowledge of what constitutes a risk is uncertain. The agencies responsible for regulation are fragmented and weakly coordinated between stakeholders and policy-makers. Industries are waiting on regulations before forging ahead. Moreover, the public is uncertain about the technology and about its benefits. All in all, potential risk and response are ill-defined.
"The International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) has identified a governance gap between the requirements pertaining to the nano- rather than the micro-/macro- technologies," say Renn and Roco. The novel attributes uncovered by nanotechnology research require new risk-benefit assessment tools. They say "at present, nanotechnology innovation proceeds ahead of the policy and regulatory environment." The IRGC envisions a four-stage cycle of management and assessment with communication at the center.
Using a series of frames, Renn and Roco sketch out responses and scenarios for different types of nanotechnology development. They argue that "the governance gap is significant for those passive nanostructures that are currently in production and have high exposure rates; and is especially significant for the several 'active' nanoscale structures and nanosystems that we can expect to be on the market in the near future." They compare various risk analysis methods to see what kinds of policies might be properly supported by different methodologies. They conclude with key research in risk, and the methods for communicating that risk to stakeholders.