Nothing says ‘diabolical hangover’ like a bottle of Atomik vodka made with ingredients from Chernobyl.
Atomik grain spirit is made with grain and water from the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and is the first consumer product to come from the abandoned area around the desolate nuclear power plant.
Professor Jim Smith, who is based at the University of Portsmouth, UK, and a team of scientists started the artisan vodka project by growing crops in the zone, and used that rye grain to make a spirit.
They hope to use profits from selling the spirit to help communities across Ukraine who are still affected by the economic impact of the Chernobyl catastrophe. The team is also made up of scientists who have worked in the exclusion zone for years – studying how the land has recovered since the nuclear disaster.
On April 26, 1986, reactor four at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in Pripyat, Ukraine, exploded after a huge power surge. This led to radioactive fallout on scale hitherto undreamt of – it is the worst accident in the history of nuclear power. While the official Soviet death toll stands at 56, Greenpeace estimated that anywhere between 93,000 and 200,000 people have died because of the events at Chernobyl.
The question you’re likely wondering – is the vodka radioactive? Rest assured, Prof Smith says it is ‘no more radioactive than any other vodka’.
As reported by the BBC, Prof Smith explained the process behind the spirit:
Any chemist will tell you, when you distill 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.
Scientists thought to make a vodka because it exemplifies the land’s worth – a clean, distilled product can come from contaminated grain. Dr Gennady Laptev, a scientist based at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute, in Kiev, who is also a founding member of the new Chernobyl Spirit Company, said the vodka shows how the land can be used for good.
As reported by the BBC, Dr Laptev said:
We don’t have to just abandon the land. We can use it in diverse ways and we can produce something that will be totally clean from the radioactivity.
Not only does the vodka offer hope for a land tainted by its disastrous history, but it can be used to help Ukraine recover economically too.
Prof Smith explained:
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. The problem for most people who live there is they don’t have the proper diet, good health services, jobs or investment.
While the profits are intended to help local communities, some will be reinvested in the business. Prof Smith hopes to provide an income for the team to work on the ‘social spirit enterprise’ part time – ‘because now,’ he adds, ‘after 30 years, I think the most important thing in the area is actually economic development, not the radioactivity’.
Prof Smith and the team hope to produce 500 bottles this year, with plans to sell it to the tourists who are flocking to the exclusion zone. Sam Armeye, from Bar Swift in London, tried the vodka. He commented: ‘It’s more of a grain spirit than a vodka, so it has much more fruity notes – you can still taste the rye.’
Despite radiation lessening over the years, Chernobyl is still an incredibly dangerous area. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sarcophagus, built to contain the fallout, is currently at high risk of collapse. There’s also a large mechanical claw in the Pripyat woods, believed to be used in the Chernobyl clean-up process, which is so radioactive ‘that one touch would kill’.
A recent Sky Original series about the incident, Chernobyl, received rave reviews for its sensitivity and realism – to the point that real documentary footage taken in the aftermath of the disaster is almost identical to scenes from the show.
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After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.