Grain and water from Chernobyl’s exclusion zone are the ingredients that have gone into the making of “artisan vodka” called Atomik. This is the first consumer product to come out of the deserted region near the famous nuclear power plant.
Professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth and researchers who have operated in the exclusion zone for several years, form the team that is responsible for the creation of the vodka. The idea is to utilize profits from sales to aid communities in Ukraine that are still suffering from the economic effects of the 1986 nuclear explosion.
Is the vodka safe to drink?
“This is no more radioactive than any other vodka,” says Smith. “Any chemist will tell you, when you distil something, impurities stay in the waste product. So we took rye that was slightly contaminated and water from the Chernobyl aquifer and we distilled it. We asked our friends at Southampton University, who have an amazing radio-analytical laboratory, to see if they could find any radioactivity. They couldn’t find anything; everything was below their limit of detection.”
A scientist based at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute in Kiev, Dr Gennady Laptev, is a founding member of the recently established Chernobyl Spirit Company. He says that this products indicates how some areas of the land in the zone can be used productively.
“We don’t have to just abandon the land,” says Laptev. “We can use it in diverse ways and we can produce something that will be totally clean from the radioactivity.”
The scientists chose to make vodka because clean distilled products can be manufactured from contaminated grain, and additionally, according to Professor Smith, selling the spirit could offer support for communities near the zone.
Smith is surprised by how the Ukrainian economic status has continued to struggle even though the landscape has slowly regenerated.
“There are radiation hotspots [in the exclusion zone] but for the most part contamination is lower than you’d find in other parts of the world with relatively high natural background radiation,” says Smith. “The problem for most people who live there is they don’t have the proper diet, good health services, jobs, or investment.”
The team plans to distribute the majority of the profits to the local communities, while the rest will be put back into the company.