Oral Evidence – Pat Mooney, ETC Group

This evidence was taken on November 5th 2003 at the World Nano-economic Congress, London, in the presence of Professor Ray Oliver, Nanotechnology Working Group member, and Dr Andrew Dunn of the Royal Society. The evidence was written up by the secretariat and has been approved by Mr Mooney.

Definition of nanoscience and nanotechnology
Mr Mooney felt that nanotechnology crosses many fields such as biotechnology and electronics, and that the distinguishing factor is a size scale less than 100nm, resulting in quantum effects which make material properties different from those at a bulk scale. He noted that the pace and scale of progress due in part to its diversity, is also what makes nanotechnology distinct from other technologies.

Health and environmental issues
Mr Mooney believed that the health and environmental issues of nanotechnology have been very badly handled. He would like to know if all products containing nanotechnology have been tested and proven safe, and felt that to have such products in the marketplace already but not tested is foolish.

Socio-economic issues
As nanotechnology is so wide, Mr Mooney felt that the impact on society would be enormous. He noted however that this could very well be positive for society, for example the manufacture of products and materials with much greater efficiency, and hence less raw materials and waste.
He was concerned however that the impact of nanotechnology would be massively disruptive on the poorer sections of society, who may become excluded from the biggest technology wave the world has seen.

Also, due to pressure from investors, Mr Mooney expects that nanotechnology products may be launched into the market (e.g. sunscreens) before the necessary testing has been done, and foresees potential problems because of this.

As a result of progress in nanotechnology, Mr Mooney expects to see mergers and acquisitions of a type not previously seen, and would like to see an international body assembled to monitor these developments. In a similar vein he would also like to see the re-instatement of bodies to advise developing countries on technology.

Grey goo
Mr Mooney was less concerned with the possibility of grey goo, than with what he termed ‘green goo’. He noted that nanoparticles are being released into the environment now, and thus there is an urgent need for regulations.

Mr Mooney suggested a useful scenario for the impact of nanotechnology might be the replacement of copper by highly conductive nanotubes for the transport of electricity. This he thought could be expected to take place in 15 years, and would effectively result in no market for copper by that time. This would naturally have a massive impact on the economies of copper producing developing countries.