Chernobyl-born ’Atomik Vodka’ wants to change people’s perception

Scientists created an alcoholic drink from grains harvested from the Chernobyl disaster site in hopes to raise awareness about the land’s recovery.

Professor Jim Smith — based at the University of Portsmouth and his team of scientists from the United Kingdom — developed Atomik Vodka, a drink distilled from grains harvested in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone.

The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on April 26, 1986, at the No. 4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR.

Chernobyl is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, and is one of only two nuclear energy disasters rated at seven—the maximum severity—by the International Nuclear Event Scale; next to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

In recent years, approximately 1,000 square miles of the region is still considered uninhabitable since the 1986 explosion.

However, a far more significant number is presumed toxic and dangerous by the general public; an irrational fear that scientists from the UK want to change.

“There are radiation hotspots [in the exclusion zone] but for the most part contamination is lower than you’d find in other parts of the world with relatively high natural background radiation,” Smith says.

“The problem for most people who live there is they don’t have the proper diet, good health services, jobs, or investment.”

Other than the grueling contamination that people residing near the Chernobyl disaster site had to endure, they are also facing continuing after-effects.

For the most part, the world still thinks Chernobyl as a deadly site that could potentially bring unwanted harm to the human body.

However, most of the rumors surrounding Chernobyl does not hold water. Some of the areas that was initially part of the forbidden and inhabitable zones are relatively safe for people to walk.

To prove the point, scientists created l Atomik Vodka, an artisanal spirit made from water and grain harvested in the reactor’s once-forbidden exclusion zone. 

While traditional vodka was first thought to be produced from potatoes, they can now be made from grains such as wheat and rye, a resource which the Chernobyl Spirit Company grew in the exclusion zone.

According to the scientists, any products that are planted and harvested in the 1,000-square-mile (2,600 square kilometers) zone that surrounds the plant remains to yield “slightly contaminated” harvests.

However, Atomik Vodka will be completely safe to consume, noting that the product is no more radioactive than any other liquor in the market.

Mainly, scientists argue that much of the presumed inhabitable exclusion zone is not nearly as dangerous as it was feared to be 33 years ago.

In recent years, the Ukrainian government called that the risk of radiation contamination throughout the exclusion zone is now considered “negligible,” and has reopened the area to tourism nearly a decade ago.

Today, Chernobyl is the No. 1 tourist destination in Ukraine, hosting more than 60,000 visitors in 2018, local tourism officials reported.

Considerably, Chernobyl is not a walk in the lark, like trips to the zone are highly controlled — with tour groups often forbidden from touching local plants or eating local produce as a precaution to prevent any unwanted contamination.

In light of the situation, the rest of the world still believes that Chernobyl is a dangerous place.

“After 30 years, I think the most important thing in the area is actually economic development, not the radioactivity,” Smith told the BBC.

Smith eyes Atomik Vodka as a positive economic boost to the area to show that Chernobyl is recovering and to prove it, people can buy alcohol sourced from the location.

Notably, vodka is a specific consumable product from the area because all traces of contamination disappear in the distillation process, during which the fermented liquid gets purified, and water and other diluting substances are removed.

“Any chemist will tell you when you distill something, impurities stay in the waste product,” Smith told the BBC.

Atomik vodka even it tastes like rye whiskey with “fruity notes” after the processing.

At the moment, though, only one bottle of Atomik vodka associated with the production of the vodka which Smith says is entirely safe.

“We had to do a risk assessment, but radioactive safety isn’t really a problem,” Smith says. “The beauty of distillation is that it takes nearly all the radioactivity out (except for natural C-14) so we hope people will be happy to drink Atomik.”

Nevertheless, the founders hope to cap at least 500 others by year’s end and sell them to thirsty Chernobyl tourists.

According to Smith, 75% of the vodka’s profits will go back to locals living in exclusion zone villages.

They’re also helping that it will provide a form of income and development in the troubled area, to enable them to move on from the disaster truly.

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