The first batch of ATOMIK Chernobyl Spirits – an artisan spirit drink made using ingredients from inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone – has hit a rocky start after it was mysteriously seized by the Ukrainian Secret Services.
The Chernobyl Spirit Company announced last week that 1,500 bottles of their ATOMIK alcoholic spirit were confiscated on March 19, following an investigation by the SBU, the Security Service of Ukraine, while en route to the UK.
The company was set up by Professor Jim Smith, a prominent environmental scientist from the UK who has studied the Chernobyl accident since 1990, and Ukrainian colleagues. Their primary product is a spirit made with help of the Palinochka Distillery in Ukraine, made from apples grown in the Narodichi District – one of the still inhabited areas most affected by the infamous Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.
The reasons for the seizure, however, remain unclear.
“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 labelled with valid UK excise stamps,” said Professor Smith.
Elina Smirnova, a lawyer representing The Chernobyl Spirit Company, added: “This case is a clear example of violation of Ukrainian Law by the Kyiv Prosecutors and the SBU. They have targeted a foreign company which has tried to establish an ethical “white” business to first of all help Ukraine. The actions of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are damaging the reputation of Ukraine as an open country for doing business. We still believe that the truth will win.”
Before you crack out the shot glasses, the company is currently not selling their Chernobyl-infused vodka and it's unclear when it will become commercially available.
The grain spirit is actually no more radioactive than any alcoholic beverage. The grain used to make the vodka was initially found to have elevated levels of strontium-90, slightly above the cautious Ukrainian limit, but they discovered that the distilling process reduces any impurities and reduces radioactive contamination. The drink is also made using mineral water from the deep aquifer in Chernobyl town, just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of the power plant, which is also free from contamination.
By the end of the process, the only radioactive element detected in the alcohol is natural carbon-14 at safe levels you’d expect in any spirit. The team hopes that their product will demonstrate how food can be safely produced within certain parts of the land surrounding Chernobyl, in the hopes of revitalizing the local economy. Furthermore, the majority of the company’s profits also get reinjecting back into the local affected communities.
“We are working hard to set up a business to help bring jobs and investment to the Chernobyl affected areas of Ukraine and to further support the community with 75 percent of any profits we make,” adds Professor Smith.