Scientists create ‘vodka’ made from Chernobyl grains

A team of scientists in the UK and Ukraine has created a "radioactive-free" ‘vodka’ produced from grains grown near Chernobyl as part of an initiative to help local communities affected by the nuclear disaster.

Social enterprise The Chernobyl Spirit Company has been set up to produce and sell the new ‘vodka’, called Atomik. The launch is part of a three-year project led by professor Jim Smith of the UK’s University of Portsmouth. The research project looked into the transfer of radioactivity to crops grown in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The research shows that many areas affected by the incident could now be used to produce crops which are safe to eat. The 4,200-sq-km human exclusion zone around Chernobyl was created due to chronic radiation fall-out following the nuclear disaster on 26 April 1986. Around 300,000 residents were permanently evacuated from their homes after the accident. Smith will give 75% of the profits made from the sale of Atomik to communities affected by the Chernobyl 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,” said Smith. “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 results from the project report that the team found some radioactivity in the grain, Srontium-90, which is slightly above the Ukrainian limit of 20 Bq/kg. However, due to the fact that distilling cuts any impurities in the original grain, the only radioactivity the academics could detect in the alcohol is natural Carbon-14 – the same level you would expect in any alcoholic drink. The scientists diluted the distilled alcohol with mineral water from the deep aquifer in Chernobyl, 10km south of the reactor, which is said to have “similar chemistry” to groundwater in the Champagne region and is “free from contamination”. Analytical tests of the water and distillate alcohol were conducted by the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute, the University of Southampton GAU-Radioanalytical, the University of Portsmouth Geological and Environmental Laboratories and an independent wine and spirits testing laboratory. 'High-value product' The Chernobyl Spirit Company hopes to start small-scale experimental production of Atomik “sometime this year” after it has concluded “some legal issues”. “33 years on, many abandoned areas could now be used to grow crops safely without the need for distillation,” added Smith. “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.” Oleg Nasvit, first deputy head of the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management, said: “We welcome this initiative to use 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. “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.”