Chernobyl’s ‘Atomik’ vodka hits the shelves
CHERNOBYL vodka branded "Atomik" has been created from grain and water from the radioactive exclusion zone.
British scientists are part of a research team behind the new tipple, which is the first consumer product to come out of the abandoned area and site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, The Sun reports.
Among the first to try the booze was a thrilled Oleg Nasvit, first deputy head of the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management.
Giving it the thumbs-up, he said: "I'd call this a high-quality moonshine.
"It isn't typical of a more highly purified vodka, but has the flavour of the grain from our original Ukrainian distillation methods - I like it."
Mr Nasvit welcomed the initiative, saying that production of Atomik vodka meant "using abandoned lands to help local communities.
"It is important that we do everything we can to support the restoration of normal life in these areas whilst always putting safety first."
The explosion and fire at the Chernobyl power plant on April 26, 1986 - the world's worst nuclear accident - resulted in a cloud of radioactive strontium, caesium and plutonium.
This affected mainly Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus, as well as parts of Russia and Europe.
To produce the vodka, distilled alcohol was diluted with mineral water from a deep aquifer in Chernobyl town, 6.2 miles (10km) south of the reactor.
Free from contamination, experts say it has similar chemistry to groundwater in the Champagne region of France.
Professor Jim Smith, a professor of environmental science from the University of Portsmouth, said: "We aim to make a high-value product to support economic development of areas outside the main exclusion zone where radiation isn't now a significant health risk."
As a member of the team of researchers behind Atomik, the Brit has joined fellow experts working in the exclusion zone for many years, studying the impact of the disaster.
He said tests on Atomik showed that, following the distillation process, only "natural Carbon-14" radioactivity was found in line with any normal spirit drink.
A University of Portsmouth spokesman said: "The team found some radioactivity in the grain: Strontium-90 is slightly above the cautious Ukrainian limit of 20 Bq/kg.
"But, because distilling reduces any impurities in the original grain, the only radioactivity the researchers could detect in the alcohol is natural Carbon-14, at the same level you would expect in any spirit drink."
Prof Smith told the BBC: "This is no more radioactive than any other vodka.
"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."
He said that a radio-analytical lab at Southampton University "couldn't find" any radioactivity in the finished product as "everything was below their level of detection".
Prof Smith, who has spent three decades exploring Chernobyl's post-human landscape, said: "We don't think the main exclusion zone should be extensively used for agriculture as it is now a wildlife reserve."
However, "33 years on, many abandoned areas could now be used to grow crops safely without the need for distillation.
"We aim to make a high-value product to support economic development of areas outside the main exclusion zone where radiation isn't now a significant health risk."
He said: "I think this is the most important bottle of spirits in the world because it could help the economic recovery of communities living in and around the abandoned areas.
"Many thousands of people are still living in the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement where new investment and use of agricultural land is still forbidden."
The team wants to produce the traditionally-brewed vodka for sale through a social enterprise called The Chernobyl Spirit Company.
Seventy-five per cent of the profits would go back to the affected community in Ukraine.
THE CHERNOBYL DISASTER: A PRIMER
A 1,622 square mile (4,200 sq km) human exclusion zone around Chernobyl was put in place due to chronic radiation fall-out following the nuclear reactor accident 33 years ago. Radiation was detected across Europe and about 300,000 residents were permanently evacuated from their homes after the accident. The explosion and fire at the Chernobyl power plant on April 26, 1986 - the world's worst nuclear accident - was caused by human error. A cloud of radioactive strontium, caesium and plutonium affected mainly Ukraine and neighboring Belarus, as well as parts of Russia and Europe. Facility operators, in violation of safety regulations, had switched off important control systems at the Ukrainian plant's reactor number four and allowed it to reach unstable, low-power conditions, according to a United Nations report. A power surge led to a series of blasts at 1.24am which blew off the reactor's heavy steel and concrete lid and sent a cloud of radioactive dust billowing across northern and western Europe, reaching as far as the eastern US. Estimates for the numbers of direct and indirect deaths from the disaster vary. The Chernobyl Forum, a group of eight U.N. agencies, and the governments of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, have estimated the death toll at only a few thousand as a result of the explosion. U.N. agencies have said some 4,000 people will die in total because of radiation exposure. The environmental group Greenpeace puts the eventual death toll far higher than official estimates, with up to 93,000 extra cancer deaths worldwide. The Chernobyl Union of Ukraine, a non-government body, estimates the present death toll from the disaster at almost 734,000.
This story first appeared in The Sun and has been republished here with permission.