An artisan vodka has been produced with ingredients from the Chernobyl exclusion zone – and scientists insist it is safe to drink.
Scientists from the University of Portsmouth created “Atomik” vodka, a spirit made with exclusion zone grain and water, making it the first consumer product to come from the area around the abandoned nuclear power plant.
Chernobyl is the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, which resulted in thousands of deaths.
The 1986 reactor explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant forced a region-wide evacuation and sending radioactive fallout billowing across Europe. While the explosion itself killed around 31 people, millions were exposed to dangerous radiation levels, and estimates of the final death toll from long-term health problems range up to 200,000.
For more than two decades, authorities have maintained the 19-mile radius exclusion zone around the reactor, including the city of Pripyat, once home to 50,000 people.
A team of scientists from the University of Portsmouth and Ukraine brewed the vodka as part of a three-year research project into the transfer of radioactivity to crops grown in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Jim Smith, who led the project and who has conducted research on Chernobyl for decades, worked with a team to find out if it was safe to use some of the abandoned land to grow crops.
“30 years on after the accident we found was that in the area the crops were slightly above the very cautious Ukranian limit for consumption. So technically, you can’t eat those crops. But we thought, Well, we’ve got some grain, why don’t we try making a vodka,” Smith told CNN.
Experts diluted the distilled alcohol with mineral water from an aquifer in Chernobyl town, which is 10km south of the reactor, and is free, they say, from contamination.
The researchers insist the vodka is safe to drink. Although the team found some radioactivity in the grain used to make the drink, which is above the Ukrainian limit, they say that distilling reduced impurities to an undetectable level.
“When you distill something, lots of impurities stay in the waste product, and the final product is more pure. And that’s what we found with our vodka –we fermented the grain then distilled it. We found that we couldn’t measure any radioactivity in the product, except natural carbon 14 that you find in any spirit drinks, or any food,” he added.
The team’s newly-founded Chernobyl Spirit Company is planning to begin a first phase of small-scale production of “Atomik” this year, and wants to give 75 per cent of the profits back to the communities affected by the disaster.
“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,” Smith said in a statement.
Only about 150 elderly people still live in the exclusion zone, in defiance of authorities. Officials say it will only be safe for humans to live there again in 24,000 years, according to AFP, although with the right paperwork tourists can visit for short periods.
Chernobyl and Pripyat have welcomed visitors since the exclusion zone opened up to visitors in 2011, but – prompted in part by the success of the recent HBO mini series “Chernobyl” – travel interest in the Ukrainian site has grown considerably.. In July, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree allowing for the development of the Chernobyl exclusion zone as a tourist attraction.
CNN’s Jack Guy, Francesca Street and Lianne Kolirin contributed to this report.