In 2019, a group of scientists and distillers decided to create a bold new type of booze: Atomik, an artisanal alcoholic spirit made from ingredients grown in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's still-radioactive exclusion zone. (The booze itself was not radioactive after the distilling process, Live Science previously reported).
Now, the first batch of Atomik is finally complete — and all 1,500 bottles of it have been seized by Ukrainian Secret Services agents for unknown reasons, according to a statement from Atomik's manufacturer, The Chernobyl Spirit Company.
"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 U.K. market and are clearly labelled with valid U.K. excise stamps," Jim Smith, founder of the company and a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., said in the statement.
Elina Smirnova, a lawyer representing the company, added that the seizure was a "clear violation" of Ukrainian law. If Atomik does make its way onto shelves, it will be the first consumer product from the Chernobyl region since the infamous 1986 meltdown, the company said.
Soon after the nuclear disaster, officials deemed the Chernobyl exclusion zone — the 1,000-square-mile (2,600 square kilometers) area surrounding the damaged power plant — uninhabitable by humans for 24,000 years. However, plants and animals are now thriving in the region — and so is tourism. According to local tourism officials, Chernobyl sees upwards of 60,000 visitors a year, with visits spiking after the May 2019 debut of HBO's "Chernobyl" miniseries.
Atomik is made from apples grown in Ukraine's Narodychi District, which sits on the edge of the exclusion zone and was heavily polluted by fallout from the meltdown. This region still has a population of nearly 10,000 people, according to Ukraine's State Statistics Service, and must abide by stringent agricultural restrictions.
With Atomik, Smith and his colleagues hope to prove that some products made near the exclusion zone can be safe for consumption, according to the company's website. Several years ago, the Atomik team tested rye crops from the exclusion zone for radiation, and found that the grains were indeed contaminated. However, Smith said, all traces of radiation were removed during the distillation process, making Atomik no more dangerous than other commercially available spirits.
Since then, the founders have changed their recipe from a rye-based booze to an apple-based one — but, according to Smith, the distillation process still renders the final product completely radiation-free. If Atomik makes it to liquor shops, 75% of the company's profits will be used "to help bring jobs and investment to the Chernobyl affected areas of Ukraine and to further support the community," according to the company's statement.
In the meantime, would you care to try a bottle of wine exposed to cosmic radiation aboard a space station for 14 months? It'll only cost you $1 million.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.