Nanotechnology subsidies and regulation

A letter, End Subsidies for Nanotechnology, published by the Washington Post in response to the story "For Science, Nanotech Poses Big Unknowns" (see Nanodot post) claims that government funding of nanotechnology will undermine self-regulation of industry via the liability market.

The letter from Wayne Crews of the Cato Institute:

Those seeking regulatory oversight of nanotechnology ["For Science, Nanotech Poses Big Unknowns," front page, Feb. 1] should pay more attention to ways that the dominance of government funding for the technology undermines self-regulation.

Dangerous, uninsurable ventures will rightly scare off investors. But government domination and subsidization of frontier scientific research can take it out of the realm of insurability and even provide immunity, such as that provided by the Price-Andersen Act, which limits the liability of nuclear power plants. More worrisome, today's military and homeland security emphasis on nanotech can have significant implications for nanotechnology's evolution and for the public policy stance taken toward it. Homeland security legislation already indemnifies some companies from liability when their "security technologies" fail. Taken too far, government control of nanotechnology can mean a liability market may never emerge.

If one is concerned about nano-safety, subsidies should end, and the private sector should pick up the tab and the responsibility.

Director, Technology Studies, Cato Institute, Washington

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