The word Chernobyl is often associated with danger and death by radiation. Now, a group of Ukrainian scientists wants people to think of vodka instead. Using grain and water from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the team brewed a bottle of radiation-free vodka.

While the thought of drinking vodka from a radioactive hotbed seems absurd, the spirit is 100 percent safe—as safe as any alcohol can be at least. The team behind it hopes the project can revitalize the area around Chernobyl through economic growth and opportunity.

(Not So) Hot Shot

To bring ATOMIK vodka to life, the team worked inside the exclusion zone to source the drink’s ingredients. Grain hand-grown within the zone is the primary ingredient. Interestingly, tests showed that the grain itself had a higher-than-safe level of radiation.

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While it wouldn’t be wise to turn it into flour and bake it into a loaf of bread, distilling the grain removed its impurities—including all traces of radiation. So, ATOMIK vodka is safe to drink despite its grain being grown in irradiated soil.

Meanwhile, the team used water from an aquifer in the town of Chernobyl as the other ingredient. Since the source was deep in the ground, tests showed it was also free of radiation. In fact, it has a similar composition to water found in France’s Champagne region.

Oleg Nasvit, head of Ukraine’s agency for exclusion zone management got to try the drink. He said, “I’d call this a high quality moonshine—it isn’t typical of a more highly purified vodka, but has the flavour of the grain from our original Ukrainian distillation methods—I like it.”

Drink for Good

Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Ukraine established an exclusion zone expanding 1000 square miles in all directions around the fated nuclear plant. While the land within a six-mile radius of the plant is restricted, zones further away but still within the exclusion zone are now open to tourists and locals. Even so, lasting fear from the accident has left reclaiming the land a difficult challenge.

The Chernobyl Spirit Company wants to change that. Its website says, “More than thirty years after the accident, we believe that what these areas need most is economic development and management of the unique wildlife resource the abandoned areas represent.”

Thousands of people uprooted from their homes near the reactor now live in the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement. However, agricultural development and investment in the area aren’t legal.

The team behind ATOMIK vodka plans to donate 75 percent of its profits to helping these communities. For now, the group will work on sorting out some legal issues before producing a small-scale batch of the vodka. They hope to complete this by the end of 2019.

Whether or not the idea of bringing economic opportunity into Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone will catch on remains to be seen. Regardless, there will be no shortage of thrill-seeking drinkers hoping to down a shot of the novel ATOMIK vodka. Hopefully, that alone will be enough to provide some assistance to those living in the area.

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