Roughly 80 proof, hopefully zero radiation.

By Tim Nelson
August 09, 2019
Lara Hata/Getty Images

Thanks to the gripping HBO miniseries, the world has fixated on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in a way it hasn’t since 1986. Our collective fascination with radiation has manifested as both memes and the bizarre (but inevitable) trend of influencers visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to create content. But now, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster to date has inspired a distilled spirit which hopes to prove that things aren’t as dangerous in Pripyat, Ukraine, as you might think.

It’s called Atomik Grain Spirit, and it’s the first consumer product made up of ingredients found entirely within the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Developed by scientists from the UK’s University of Portsmouth, who have spent years studying how the 1986 nuclear disaster has affected the local land, the vodka consists primarily of “slightly contaminated” rye and water from Cehrnobyl’s aquifer. 

You don’t need to be Valery Legasov to be worried about a potentially radioactive product like Atomik, but the team behind the newly minted Chernobyl Spirit Company attests that the nature of the distillation process and resulting scientific measurements should allay any concern. 

"Any chemist will tell you, when you distil something, impurities stay in the waste product,” Jim Smith, a professor at the University of Portsmouth and an architect of the unusual artisanal spirit, told the BBC. “We asked our friends at Southampton University, who have an amazing radio-analytical laboratory, to see if they could find any radioactivity… everything was below their limit of detection."

Smith’s team hopes distilling a safe grain spirit using ingredients from an area of the world many assume is dangerously inhospitable can dispel myths about Chernobyl’s present state. “We don't have to just abandon the land," he told the BBC. "We can use it in diverse ways and we can produce something that will be totally clean from the radioactivity."

In the process, Atomik hopes the fruits of their labor can help local Ukranians enjoy a brighter future. Though only one bottle has been produced so far, the plan is to donate a significant portion of any future profits to communities around the exclusion zone whose proximity to Pripyat has left them behind economically. 

“The problem for most people who live [near Chernobyl] is they don't have the proper diet, good health services, jobs or investment," Smith told the BBC. “After 30 years, I think the most important thing in the area is actually economic development, not the radioactivity.” 

Is Atomik not great? Not terrible? It’s ultimately a product whose mere existence is more important than its quality. Hopefully distribution will make it possible for curious drinkers to buy their own bottle and support disadvantaged Ukranians sometime before the world’s next nuclear disaster. 

 

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