CHERNOBYL VODKA

The still-radioactive fields around Chernobyl have produced their first agriculture-based consumer products since the 1986 meltdown, in a rare piece of positive news from the region.

Constructions of a former Soviet Union over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system "Duga" are seen near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near Chernobyl, Ukraine. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich


For the last 33 years, Pripyat has been a ghost town, a memory of mistakes of the past and of an era that seems long gone.

Today, the Chernobyl meltdown that devastated the town and surrounding areas is known around the world.

The memory of the story has been revived recently by HBO's “Chernobyl" miniseries, which recounts the desperate events that took place there in 1986.

It is a story of suffering that can't be overestimated.

To this day, people are still affected by radiation-related diseases that afflict not only the inhabitants of Pripyat but those of many towns around it.

An exhibition named “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl," currently running at St. Petersburg's Rosphoto, shows photos of the disaster taken by photographer Gerd Ludwig.

They document the devastation the meltdown had on the area, which seems to have stopped in time, where toys, paper documents, and other personal effects lay in private homes virtually untouched since the disaster, covered in ash, representing an horrific testament to the suffering of so many.

Which is also why it is so refreshing to hear of positive developments involving Chernobyl, and one that relates to a very traditional (read Eastern European) product, even if its producers are of British origin.

Last month, scientists from the University of Portsmouth have been able to produce vodka from water and yeast recovered from the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Naturally, the area is still highly radioactive, so many of the agricultural products and water supplies are contaminated and not proper for human consumption.

However, these scientists discovered that the distillation process used to produce vodka is highly effective in clearing any impurities from the final product, and as it turns out, radiation too.

The absolutely fantastically named Atomik Vodka shows no detectable signs of radiation with the exception of Carbon 14, which is found in any spirit and even food around the world, making it perfectly safe to drink.

While the vodka was developed initially for the sake of scientific research, the team behind the project has found that it could come to represent much more.

“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," said Jim Smith, a professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth.

The radiation from the nuclear reactor affected a very large area, and in response, a 4,200sqkm exclusion zone was delineated to avoid further harm to the local population.

Over 300,000 people were permanently evacuated and put in what was designated as the Zones of Obligatory Resettlement.

Many thousands of people still live in these areas, where industrial work is non-existent and where agricultural work is extremely limited due to soil contamination. Atomik Vodka is the first consumer product to be produced in the exclusion zone in 33 years, which is in itself a grand development. The team from Portsmouth University now wants to start producing the vodka in commercial quantities to sell to the public.

They will use 75% of the profits to support the local communities that were affected by the devastation and intend to help people grow crops in the areas outside the exclusion zone where radiation is no longer a serious health risk. Hopefully that will greatly help boost economic growth in the region.