Like many of you, I turned to HBO’s “Chernobyl” to fill the gaping void left when “Game of Thrones” aired its final and extremely unsatisfying season. The horror of the 1986 nuclear reactor meltdown in Pripyat, Ukraine, brought to life for television reinvigorated the general public’s interest in the area, which hosts a 1,600 square-mile exclusion zone that has been abandoned since the disaster.
But for others, like The Chernobyl Spirit Company, the exclusion zone is a land of opportunity. At least, until their first batch of “ATOMIK,” an alcohol distilled from slightly radioactive apples, was seized by Ukrainian authorities on its way to the United Kingdom.
“It seems that they are accusing us of using forged Ukrainian excise stamps, but this doesn’t make sense since the bottles are for the UK market and are clearly labeled with valid UK excise stamps,” said Jim Smith, an environmental science professor at Portsmouth University and the founder of The Chernobyl Spirit Company, in a statement.
The Chernobyl Spirit Company has for the last two years worked with the Palinochka Distillery to produce ATOMIK using apples from the Narodychi District — one of the only remaining inhabited areas affected by the accident. It’s an artisinal vodka, more lovingly referred to as a moonshine, which is completely safe, according to scientists.
“This is no more radioactive than any other vodka,” Smith told BBC in 2019. “Any chemist will tell you, when you distil something, impurities stay in the waste product. 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 venture is designed to give back to local communities affected by the disaster. According to the website, at least 75 percent of the profits will go to wildlife conservation and people of the affected areas.
“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,” Dr. Gennady Laptev, a Chernobyl “liquidator” who worked at the plant in the first weeks after the accident, said in the release.