Scientists distill ‘vodka’ from Chernobyl, found craft spirit company

UK scientists have produced a spirit from crops grown in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone as part of a three-year research project to provide economic support to local communities.

(Photo: University of Portsmouth)

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth have bottled the radioactive-free ATOMIK vodka in the hopes that it will help the affected area recover economically in the future.

Professor Jim Smith, at the University of Portsmouth, described the artisan vodka as one of the “most important bottle of spirits in the world.”

The scientists have now presented the results of a three-year research project into the transfer of radioactivity to crops grown in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. They found some radioactivity in the grain: strontium-90 is slightly above the cautious Ukrainian limit of 20 Bq/kg.

However, 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.

They have also diluted the distilled alcohol with mineral water from the deep aquifer in Chernobyl town, 10km south of the reactor, which has similar chemistry to groundwater in the Champagne region of France – and is also free from contamination, according to the researchers.

Professor Smith (left) hopes the vodka project will pave the way for locals to start cultivating in areas where agriculture is still prohibited. (photo: University of Portsmouth)

Now, the team are setting up a social enterprise “The Chernobyl Spirit Company” to begin to produce and sell “ATOMIK”, a high quality home-made vodka or “moonshine”.

Smith wants to use the company to sell the vodka and give 75% of the profits back to the affected community.

The scientists said the Exclusion Zone should be kept as a wildlife reserve and not cultivated, but Smith added that agriculture is still banned in other areas where people live.

He said that 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.”

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