- Is this a case of governmental overreach or protecting the public from radioactive alcohol?
When you think of Chernobyl – the site of the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster – you’re probably picturing something from Stalker. You know, gas masks, radiation, strange mutants, that sort of stuff.
Whatever your mental picture, though, you probably wouldn’t be too thrilled about consuming anything grown in the seclusion zone. Ukrainian authorities seem to agree with you. They just confiscated more than 1,500 bottles of moonshine made out of apples from Chernobyl.
While that sounds like a reasonable response, it’s actually pretty questionable. You see, as far as the manufacturer is concerned, they’re doing everything by the book.
The Chernobyl Spirit Company, run by Ukrainian and British scientists, has been producing alcohol in Chernobyl for several years. Under the Atomik brand, they started with a vodka and recently branched into a traditional Ukrainian apple moonshine.
The company claims that it has no idea why the bottles have been confiscated.
“It seems that they are accusing us of using forged Ukrainian excise stamps,” Professor Jon Smith, one of the scientists running the booze company, told the BBC.
However, he says that he sees reason for the Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office to seize the UK-bound shipment.
“This doesn’t make sense since the bottles are for the UK market and are clearly labelled with valid UK excise stamps,” Smith said.
Dr. Gennady Laptev is a co-owner of the company and a Chernobyl “liquidator” who has worked at the site since the nuclear meltdown. He agreed with Smith.
“We hope this issue can be resolved so that we can continue our work trying to help people affected by the devastating social and economic impacts Chernobyl had on communities,” said Laptev.
Decades of Economic Fallout
Could it be that the Ukrainian authorities are concerned about the apple booze being potentially radioactive? Maybe, but according to the scientists, there is no concern for that.
Like their previous Atomik vodka, the new apple moonshine “is no more radioactive” than any other booze on the market, they say.
“Any chemist will tell you, when you distil something, impurities stay in the waste product,” Smith said in a separate interview.
As Dr. Laptev said, the Chernobyl Spirit Company isn’t attempting to spread nuclear waste around the world. Instead, they’re trying to kickstart new economic activity in the abandoned Chernobyl exclusion zone.
For years, the scientists running the company have been researching whether grains and other agricultural products grown in Chernobyl could safely be used as food. They hope that their work could allow local communities to start farming again.
At the moment, all agricultural activity in the exclusion zone is strictly forbidden. The only exceptions are for scientific research. That’s despite the fact that good portions of the exclusion zone actually have lower radiation levels than many farming hotspots all around the world.
The apples used in Atomik Apple Spirit come from Narodichi, some 45 miles from Chernobyl nuclear complex. Although it lies just outside the exclusion zone, agriculture is nonetheless restricted.
As a result, the community is struggling economically, even decades after the accident. Chernobyl Spirit Company’s work could help Narodichi and other similarly struggling communities.
“We don’t have to just abandon the land. We can use it in diverse ways and we can produce something that will be totally clean from the radioactivity,” Laptev said.
No Activity At All
The scientists’ work has already had some positive results. As we mentioned, before the apple booze, they released a vodka brand in 2019.
The Atomik vodka is distilled from rye grown in the exclusion zone. Even though it comes from Chernobyl, the distillation process removes all traces of radioactivity from it, Smith said.
“We took rye that was slightly contaminated and water from the Chernobyl aquifer and we distilled it,” he said.
“We asked our friends at Southampton University, who have an amazing radio-analytical laboratory, to see if they could find any radioactivity. They couldn’t find anything – everything was below their limit of detection.”
The Atomik vodka was produced in limited quantities, but met with approval from those who tasted it.
“It’s more of a grain spirit than a vodka, so it has much more fruity notes – you can still taste the rye,” described Sam Armeye, a bartender at Bar Swift in London.
“Definitely [good for] a classic martini but I’d also mix it with champagne,” he added.
The scientists refined the previous vodka recipe to produce the now-confiscated batch of apple moonshine. If they ever get the booze to the market, at least 75% of the profits will go to supporting local economy.
Would you want to taste an apple spirit straight from the reactor? Let us know in the comments!