Nuclear power has long been controversial, and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 cemented its image as risky and dangerous.
But the U.S.—and the world—might need to rethink that position. As renewable energy becomes increasingly urgent, nuclear energy shouldn’t be discounted. In fact, it should be embraced according to Andy Karsner, managing partner at Emerson Collective and a senior strategist at Google’s (GOOGL) moonshot lab.
“To me, dealing with nuclear is not an optional discussion for this country or this planet,” Karsner said on Monday during Fortune‘s Brainstorm E conference in Carlsbad, Calif.
“We have unleashed on mankind, the power of splitting the atom. This nation did it in the middle of a war. All the consequences of our world changed from that moment onward,” he added about the U.S.’s use of nuclear bombs during World War II against Japan.
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In 2011, a nuclear plant accident in Fukushima, Japan sent another wave of fear of nuclear power across the world. As a result, other countries including Germany and Italy have decided to move away from nuclear power.
But turning our back on nuclear energy is not the way to go, says Karsner. With the growing concerns over fossil fuels, climate change, and the need for more emission-free energy sources, he says that nuclear power should be harnessed “for peace and for the betterment of the environment in a way that it can clearly serve as an emission-free source.”
The challenge, however, will be to continue pushing—and spending on—more research and development when it comes to nuclear power. As fellow speaker Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology, said on Monday, the existing generations of nuclear generators aren’t cutting it and we’ll need to look at the upcoming technology, or “generation four reactors,” which are small and modular, and safe. The only problem, he adds, is that they don’t exist yet, and to even test this hypothetical approach to generators will cost at least $10 billion, he says.
But that investment is imperative, according to Karsner. “We can’t abdicate. We have got to be in the field of nuclear power and we’ve got to rededicate ourselves to the field of nuclear power and cleaning it and making it safe.”