Would you drink vodka made from grain grown in Chernobyl?

A vodka produced from crops in Chernobyl's abandoned zone has been brewed by a team of scientists, and there are hopes it can be manufactured for sale and that profits will be used to support the local community's economic and social development.

A sample bottle of Atomik vodka in a presentation case
A vodka produced from crops grown in Chernobyl's abandoned zone has been brewed by a team of scientists. Image: University of Portsmouth/The Chernobyl Spirits Company

The nuclear disaster of April 1986 occurred when a power plant reactor exploded in Chernobyl in northern Ukraine, releasing radioactive material that drifted across the Soviet Union and Western Europe. This exposed millions of people to dangerous levels of radiation and at least 30 people died in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The neighbouring town of Pripyat needed to be evacuated and remains a ghost town to this day. However, a vodka free from radiation has been produced from crops grown in the exclusion zone and brewed by a team of scientists in the UK and Ukraine during a three-year research project.

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The vodka is called Atomik and it is made from grain grown near Chernobyl. The research team found some radioactivity in the original grain, but distilling it reduced any impurities. As a result, the only radioactivity the researchers could detect in the alcohol was natural carbon-14 at the same level you would expect in any spirit drink. They 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.

Dorm of a preschool in Pripyat ghost town, Chernobyl
Dorm of a preschool in Pripyat ghost town, Chernobyl, Ukraine. Image by ©tunart/Getty Images

The scientists have formed The Chernobyl Spirit Company, a social enterprise aiming to produce high-quality artisan vodka from land in the areas of Ukraine abandoned after the accident. It will be the first consumer product to come from the area around the abandoned nuclear power plant, and at least 75 per cent of profits will go to supporting communities in the affected areas and wildlife conservation.

"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," says Professor Jim Smith, school of the environment, geography and geosciences at the University of Portsmouth. "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 monument near the New Safe Confinement metal dome encasing the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl.
A monument near the New Safe Confinement metal dome encasing the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl. Image: Sergei Supinisky/AFP/Getty Images

The research team doesn’t think the main exclusion zone should be extensively used for agriculture as it is now a wildlife reserve, but says there are other areas where people live, but agriculture is still banned. Thirty-three years on, many abandoned areas could now be used to grow crops safely without the need for distillation, it says. There are some legal issues to be completed first, but The Chernobyl Spirit Company is hoping to begin small-scale experimental production of Atomik vodka later this year.

For further information, please see its website here.