The HBO limited series Chernobyl has brought renewed attention to the 1986 nuclear accident that occurred in what was then the Soviet Union, which ranks among the worst man-made disasters in world history. The accidental explosion of the nuclear core irradiated a huge swath of land 1000 square miles in size and is believed to have killed thousands.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is now apparently safe enough for tourists, who flock to the site to get a glimpse of what amounts to a ghost town. But would you drink a vodka made from grains and water found there?
Scientists and researchers who have worked in the zone believe some people will. They’ve founded the Chernobyl Spirit Company and are now marketing Atomik, an artisan vodka made with rye grains and water from the area. Jim Smith, an environmental scientist at England's University of Portsmouth, led the exploration of land near the Opachichi settlement, which is believed to be one of the zone's least contaminated areas.
Rye grain grown on the site demonstrated levels of radioactivity that were slightly above safe thresholds. After being distilled, the spirit was submitted to experts at Southampton University for additional testing. The distillation seemed to virtually eliminate all but the naturally occurring levels of carbon-14 found in most any spirit. The water, which comes from an aquifer six miles south of the reactor, was found to be safe. The company also says that the soil poses no health issues for workers.
Researchers say the vodka accomplishes two goals: First, it makes use of land that would otherwise be abandoned. Second, proceeds from sales of the vodka will be put back into communities near the Exclusion Zone, which have struggled to improve their economic conditions in the years since the accident.
For now, the Chernobyl Spirit Company has only produced one bottle of Atomik. The goal is to make 500 bottles this year and sell them primarily to tourists to the site. If nothing else, having some Chernobyl moonshine will make for a conversation piece.