In 2019, a group of scientists, along with distillers, created what they called “Atomik” – an alcoholic spirit made from ingredients grown in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant’s radioactive exclusion zone. Thankfully, the alcohol itself is not radioactive after the distilling process.
All 1,500 bottles of Atomik have been seized by Ukrainian Secret Services agents for unknown reasons, according to a statement from The Chernobyl Spirit Company, Atomik’s manufacturer.
“It seems that they are accusing us of using forged Ukrainian excise stamps, but this doesn’t make sense since the bottles are for the U.K. market and are clearly labeled with valid U.K. excise stamps,” Jim Smith, founder of the company and a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., said in the statement.
Elina Smirnova, a lawyer representing the company, said that the seizure was a “clear violation” of Ukrainian law. If Atomik does eventually make its way into stores, it will be the first consumer product from the Chernobyl region since the infamous 1986 disaster, the company said.
Soon after the nuclear disaster, officials deemed the Chernobyl exclusion zone — the 1,000-square-mile area surrounding the damaged power plant — uninhabitable by humans for 24,000 years. However, plants and animals are now thriving in the area, and so is tourism. Chernobyl sees almost 60,000 visitors a year. Visits spiked after the May 2019 debut of HBO’s miniseries “Chernobyl.”
Atomik is made from apples grown in Ukraine’s Narodychi District, which sits on the edge of the exclusion zone. This district was heavily polluted by fallout from the disaster. This region still has a population of almost 10,000 people, according to Ukraine’s State Statistics Service. The region must follow strict agricultural guidelines.
According to Atomik’s website, Smith and his colleagues want to prove that some products made near the exclusion zone can be safe for consumption. Several years ago, the Atomik team tested rye crops from the exclusion zone for radiation. They found that the grains were indeed contaminated. However, Smith said, all traces of radiation were removed during the distillation process, making Atomik no more dangerous than any other commercially available spirits.
The founders have since changed their recipe from a rye-based booze to an apple-based one. However, according to Smith, the distillation process still completely removes all traces of radiation. If Atomik makes it to shelves, 75% of the company’s profits will be used “to help bring jobs and investment to the Chernobyl affected areas of Ukraine and to further support the community,” according to the company’s statement.