LONDON – Would you drink something called “Atomik,” whose ingredients come from near Chernobyl?
Scientists in Britain and Ukraine have distilled vodka using grains and water from a place that has become synonymous with nuclear disaster and contamination — and they say it is free from toxic radiation.
They set out to show that safe agriculture is feasible in some of the abandoned areas around Chernobyl, and they plan to make more of the artisanal spirit as a venture to support the local community.
“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,” said Jim Smith, a University of Portsmouth environmental science professor.
The 1986 explosion, meltdown and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine caused the largest release in history of radiation and radioactive material. It became a global symbol of the perils of nuclear power.
More than three decades later, a TV series broadcast this year brought attention to the victims of the disaster and the remaining dangers in the 1,600-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. That area, lying mostly in northern Ukraine and extending into Belarus, is where radiation levels have been the highest, so access is severely restricted.
Residents were ordered to evacuate the Exclusion Zone and an additional “Zone of Obligatory Resettlement,” but some refused. Curious travelers have also appeared, to catch glimpses of the decaying, abandoned towns and explore the dense forest that has reclaimed much of the landscape. Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has spoken of making the area an official tourist attraction.
Through the vodka project, Smith and his colleagues hope to draw attention to the thousands of people who continue to live in the Chernobyl resettlement zone.
“Since the 1990s, I’ve realized that radioactivity isn’t the problem there,” he said in an interview. “There are social and economic problems.”