Last edited 3 October 2003 at 8:00am

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is not really a single technology - it is about doing things at a very small scale. It gets its name from the 'nanometre' which is a million times smaller than a millimetre, or about 80,000 times smaller than a human hair. Manipulation and measurement of things, including atoms, on a scale of 1-100 nanometres is what nanotechnology is all about.

Greenpeace's position on nanotechnology

Greenpeace does not have a stance on nanotechnology as a whole, because the applications will be too diverse, including information technology, pharmaceuticals, defence and energy. The first applications of nanotechnology look to be in making faster computers and helping doctors with better diagnostic tests.

There may be some very beneficial uses of nanotechnolgy if it is directed towards, for example, a genuinely clean energy system with the prospect of very efficient lighting, cleaner manufacturing processes and cheap, efficient solar cells. However these are some years from deployment, so whether they happen or not depends on a host of decisions about research and development funding now and over the next few years.

Greenpeace has concerns about the use of 'nanoparticles' - very tiny particles which are so small that their chemical and biochemical properties will be different from the familiar bulk solids, and may be hazardous to human health and the environment. We want to see a moratorium on the release of nanoparticles to the environment until evidence that it is safe (for the environment and human health) is clear. In the longer term nanotechnology could produce self-replicating 'machines' whose proliferation could be environmentally problematic.

More information

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