Nanotechnology & the Insurance Industry – Waving, not Drowning

There are still open questions [surrounding nanotechnology], but that applies to many emerging risks from new technologies‘ reads one of the main conclusions of a report about ‘The Information Needs of the (Re-)Insurance Industry’ concerning the risks posed by nanotechnologies; the quote was one of the concluding remarks given by a risk engineer of a large, international insurance group, when interviewed by the Gov4Nano team in October 2019; the risk engineer had been the only representative of the insurance industry, who agreed to commit time to an interview, while the previous nine months of contacting and pitching to the industry had resulted in ‘thank you, but no, thank you’-door-closures only.

As a consequence, the AcumenIST had to review and amend its originally planned task within the Gov4Nano Project: instead of finding out how the planned Nanotechnology Risk Governance Council could support the insurance industries through tailor-made services and information provision, AcumenIST’s task now was to retrace the developments that had caused the (re-)insurance industry’s former avid interest in and engagement with nanotechnologies to go sour; the ultimate cause was found to be ‘nothing’ – i.e. the lack of an occurrence of a significant risk (or insurance claim) caused by nanotechnologies in the past 20 years ultimately led the (re-)insurance industries to lower its alert level concerning nanotechnologies.

The situation [of significant risk] has never occurred in the broad field of nanotechnology, which means that [‚Ķ] very few or non-nanospecific cases of claims have occurred. This also explains why the insurance industry classifies nanotechnology as an emerging risk but “merely” under monitoring based on the current state of knowledge.

[Risk Engineer (2019)]

The presentation was delivered during the 4th Gov4Nano Consortium Meeting, held 22.-24. September 2020; Dr Friedrichs illustrated how the (re-)insurance industries had been very interested in nanotechnologies between 2002 and 2008: numerous conferences had been organised, reviews conducted and reports written by the insurance industry during that time. A few insurers had opted for publishing exclusions of coverage of nanotechnologies, but most firms found that insurance exclusions of nanotechnologies were ‘neither feasible nor appropriate’, and subsequently focused on ‘how’ not ‘if’ nanotechnologies should be insured.

Insurance is understood to represent an important pillar of support to novel technologies and their governance; the planned Nanotechnology Risk Governance Council may be able to learn from the insurance industry’s approach.

‚Äė[I]nsurance is crucial for governing the everyday world of safety and security‚Äô

[Ericson et al., 2004]

Follow this link to read the public Fact Sheet of AcumenIST’s report on ‘The Information Needs of the (Re-)Insurance Industry’ (the full report is confidential and available to Gov4Nano partners only).

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