Swiss Re Reports on Nanotechnology Insurance Perspectives

May 11, 2004

Swiss Re has issued a report on the phenomena of nanotechnology from an insurer’s point of view. Originally presented at a media conference in London, the publication “Nanotechnology: Small matter, many unknowns,” examines the opportunities and risks of the new processes using extremely small materials.

“As a major risk carrier, the insurance industry can only responsibly support the introduction of a new technology if it can evaluate and calculate its inherent risks,” said the company’s announcement. “A risk needs to be identified before its consequences can be measured and a decision can be reached on the optimal risk management approach. This is why an open risk dialogue is required involving all stakeholders – industry, scientists, regulators and the insurance sector.” Swiss Re said it hoped that its publication would “add impetus to the nanotechnology debate.”

Annabelle Hett, a risk expert at Swiss Re noted: “The mere presence of nano particles, even if they are everywhere, does not pose a threat to people or the environment. A risk can only arise if some of the particles’ properties turn out to be harmful. However, insufficient research has been done to say with any certainty whether, and if so to what extent, nanoparticles or products containing nanoparticles actually pose a threat.”

The report notes that the use of nanotechnology poses some interesting questions. As examples Swiss Re asked: “How will the changed chemical properties of nanoparticles affect the human body if they are used in concentrated form, as in medicines or sprays? What happens to the accumulated particles that have already been detected in some organs?” The answers to these questions have yet to be found.

Bruno Porro, Swiss Re’s Chief Risk Officer, stated: “Nanotechnology makes possible a large number of innovative products that are attractive to consumers and beneficial to the environment. The trend towards miniaturisation also carries within it a potential for growth, which analysts say will be of major economic significance in the next few years. The insurance industry must therefore conduct a careful analysis of nanotechnology in order to identify where any problems might be.”

Swiss Re described nanotechnology as representing “a fundamentally new approach in industrial production and reflects the general downscaling and miniaturisation efforts prevalent in all technological disciplines. It allows structures and tailor-made particles a few millionths of a millimetre in size to be manufactured in a controlled manner producing, for example, faster computer chips, more efficient batteries, “carriers” for medicines or ultra-thin coatings with multiple properties.”

Swiss Re noted that English and German versions of the publication are available electronically on its website at: Printed copies are available as well (order no. 1501255_04_en). Orders may be made by fax to:
Zurich: +41 43 285 2023
London: +44 20 7933 5445

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.