New Chernobyl vodka ‘possibly the most important bottle of spirits in the world’

8 Aug 2019

A bottle of radioactive-free Atomik artisan vodka. Image: University of Portsmouth/PA Wire

Researchers are hoping to breathe new life into the Chernobyl region by brewing a vodka from local grain.

A radioactivity-free vodka produced from crops in Chernobyl’s abandoned zone has been brewed by a team of British scientists.

Prof Jim Smith from the University of Portsmouth described the artisan vodka – branded Atomik – as “possibly the most important bottle of spirits in the world”, as he believed it would help the region recover economically. He said tests on the vodka showed that, following the distillation process, only “natural Carbon-14” radioactivity was found in line with any normal spirit drink.

Smith now wants to produce the traditionally brewed vodka for sale through a social enterprise called The Chernobyl Spirit Company, with 75pc of the profits going back to the affected community in Ukraine.

Some radioactivity

“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.

“Many thousands of people are still living in the zone of obligatory resettlement where new investment and use of agricultural land is still forbidden.”

A University of Portsmouth spokesperson added: “The team found some radioactivity in the grain: Strontium-90 is slightly above the cautious Ukrainian limit of 20 becquerel per kg [a unit of radioactivity].

“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.”

A 4,200 sq km human exclusion zone around Chernobyl was put in place due to chronic radiation fallout following the nuclear reactor accident in 1986. Radiation was detected across Europe and about 300,000 residents were permanently evacuated from their homes after the accident.

Champagne-like groundwater source

To produce the vodka, Smith and his team diluted the distilled alcohol with mineral water from a deep aquifer in Chernobyl town, 10km south of the reactor, which is free from contamination and which he says has similar chemistry to groundwater in the Champagne region of France.

Smith, a professor of environmental science, said: “We don’t think the main exclusion zone should be extensively used for agriculture as it is now a wildlife reserve but there are other areas where people live but agriculture is still banned.

“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.”

Oleg Nasvit, first deputy head of the State Agency of Ukraine on 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.”

Nasvit added: “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.”

– PA Media