The Chernobyl disaster both shocked and captivated the world, and we’ve continued to be fascinated with it for the three decades since. HBO’s hit Chernobyl piqued the interest of more adventurous (read: foolhardy) travelers who felt compelled to visit the site first-hand. That the Ukrainian government opened the Exclusion Zone to official tours in July only fueled the fire. Now, anyone looking to take a piece of the world’s greatest man-made disaster home with them can do so thanks to Atomik Vodka.
Scientists have spent the last three decades studying the literal fallout of Chernobyl. Much of their research has revolved around farming and the effects of radioactivity on crop health. Given their research goals and the fact that this is so close to Russia after all, attempting to distill vodka from the potentially toxic crops seemed like an obvious next step. A team of Ukrainian and U.K. scientists worked together over the last three years to distill vodka from rye grown within the Exclusion Zone. The result is an artisan spirit called Atomik Vodka distilled by the newly founded Chernobyl Spirit Company.
The first and most obvious question is: “Is it radioactive?” The first bottle of Atomik Vodka was produced from grain grown near Chernobyl, and that source grain was found to be radioactive. However, the company was able to significantly reduce impurities by heavily distilling it and diluting it with mineral water from a deep, clean aquifer near Chernobyl. The resulting liquor is about as radioactive as any standard spirit you might find at the liquor store.
(Is anyone troubled by the fact that the booze we’re already drinking is radioactive?)
In the wake of the nuclear disaster, the land, groundwater, crops, animals — pretty much everything — was dosed with toxic levels of radiation. The effects were felt throughout the Soviet Union and large swaths of Western Europe. The nearby town of Pripyat was infamously forced to evacuate and remains the world’s most famous ghost town. At the time, scientists and biologists were unsure when, if ever, the area would be safe for human habitation or farming. Thousands still live in the region but are unable to work the land. So, this proof of concept could prove critical to revitalizing the local economy.
Sure, on the surface, it seems like an unabashed gimmick. The good news, though, is that at least 75% of the profits from the sale of Atomik Vodka will be injected back into the communities hardest hit by the disaster. Sadly, the BBC reports the vodka won’t be available for some time and only with a limited production run of just 500 bottles. No word yet on price. Given the spike in Exclusion Zone tourism over the past few months alone, we have to imagine the entire lot will sell out almost immediately.
If you’d rather not tempt fate, there are plenty of excellent, non-Chernobyl vodkas to be found right here in the decidedly non-radioactive U.S. of A.
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