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Making use of grain from Chernobyl

Making use of grain from Chernobyl

Scientists have turned crops from the area into a vodka

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

British and Ukrainian scientists are turning grain and water from near the site of an infamous nuclear accident into a safe alcoholic drink.

Jim Smith, a professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth, and Dr. Gennady Laptev, a scientist at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute, used contaminated rye from a farm in the Exclusion Zone near Chernobyl to create ATOMIK vodka.

The water needed for the spirit came from an aquifier about 10 km (6.2 miles) away from the nuclear plant.

The rye contained levels of strontium-90, a radioactive isotope, at levels slightly above the Ukrainian limit of 20 becquerels (a unit to measure radioactivity) per kilogram. But the distilling process reduces the impurities in the grain.

After the distilling process, Smith and his team sent samples of the vodka to Southampton University to test it for radioactivity.

“They couldn’t find anything – everything was below their limit of detection,” Smith told BBC on Aug. 8.

The finished product is the result of a three-year project that included planting and harvesting the rye from the Exclusion Zone.

The researchers hope the product can help revitalize the area around Chernobyl, which has struggled economically since the power plant accident on April 26, 1986.

“We don’t have to just abandon the land,” Dr. Laptev told BBC. “We can use it in diverse ways and we can produce something that will be totally clean from radioactivity.”

So far, only one bottle of ATOMIK vodka exists.

“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,” Smith said in an Aug. 8 statement announcing the vodka’s creation. “Many thousands of people are still living in the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement where new investment and use of agricultural land is still forbidden.”

Smith and members of the research team have set up The Chernobyl Spirit Co. to begin producing and selling the vodka on a larger scale. They plan to donate 75 percent of profits from ATOMIK’s sales to the affected Ukrainian community.

Would U.S. producers take a sip of the unique product?

“I sure would,” Brian McKenzie, a cash crop grower from Cassopolis, Mich., told “When you think about everything that happened with Chernobyl, to think there’s now a product made from the area is pretty cool.”

Others are more hesitant.

“I might not,” Bob Worth, a soybean grower from Lake Benton, Minn., told “If it has passed all the proper inspections, then maybe.”

University of Portsmouth photo


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