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Radioactive-free vodka produced by Hampshire team from crops inside Chernobyl

The vodka is the first consumer product ever to be made from crops grown inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Professor Jim Smith, who's from the University of Portsmouth, has described the artisan vodka, branded ATOMIK, as possibly the most important bottle of spirits in the world.

He and colleagues in Ukraine, where it was traditionally brewed, say it's hoped it will help the region recover economically.

This bottle is the result of a three-year research project into the transfer of radioactivity to crops in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Seeding the plot by hand inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in September 2017

Professor Smith now wants to produce the artisan vodka made from grain grown near Chernobyl, and give 75 percent of the profits back to the affected community.

He said: "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.

"Many thousands of people are still living in the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement where new investment and use of agricultural land is still forbidden."

Abandoned house inside the Exclusion Zone - photo by: Valeriy Yurko

The team found some radioactivity in the grain, slightly above the cautious Ukrainian limit, but because distilling reduces any impurities in the original grain, the radioactivity the researchers could detect in the alcohol is natural Carbon-14 at the same level you would expect in any spirit drink.

They have diluted the distilled alcohol with mineral water from the deep aquifier in Chernobyl town, 10km south of the reactor, which has similar chemistry to groundwater in the Champagne region of France - and is also free from contamination.

Analytical tests of the water and distillate alcohol were conducted by the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute, the University of Southampton GAU-Radioanalytical, the University of Portsmouth Geological and Environmental Laboratories and an independent wine and spirits testing laboratory.

First plot of crop inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in June 2017

They are setting up a social enterprise called 'The Chernobyl Spirit Company' to begin to produce and sell 'ATOMIK', a high-quality home-made vodka or 'moonshine'.

Professor Smith added: "We don't think the main Exclusion Zone should be extensively used for agriculture as it is now a wildlife reserve.

"But there are other areas where people live, but agriculture is still banned.

"33 years on, many abandoned areas could now be used to grow crops safely without the need for distillation.

"We aim to make a high-value product to support economic development of areas outside the main Exclusion Zone where radiation isn't now a significant health risk."

The 4,200km human exclusion zone was put in place due to chronic radiation fall-out following the accident at Chernobyl in 1986.

Radiation was detected across Europe and around 300,000 people were permanently evacuated from their homes after the accident.

The entry point to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone - photo by: Tom Hinton

The report has apparently been positively received by the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management.

Mr Oleg Nasvit, who's their First Deputy Head, said: "We welcome this initiative to use abandoned lands to help local communities.

"It is important that we do everything we can to support the restoration of normal life in these areas whilst always putting safety first.

"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."

Before The Chernobyl Spirit Company can start producing more bottles of the vodka there are a few legal issues which have to be ironed out, but they are hoping to begin a small-scale experimental production sometime this year.

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