The apple-based spirit is the first product from the 1986 nuclear disaster's "Exclusion Zone" to attempt to be sold on the consumer market.

By Jelisa Castrodale
May 10, 2021
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Last July, a group of scientists who have been trying to make alcoholic spirits from crops grown within the "Exclusion Zone" that surrounds the Chernobyl nuclear power plant announced that their first big release could be an 80-proof alcoholic beverage distilled from apples.

"[W]e have a plan to produce a spirit made from apples (and maybe pears)," the Chernobyl Spirit Company wrote on its website. "The apple harvest is coming up in Narodychi (a town we're working with in the Chernobyl affected area) in the next few weeks. We're planning to buy enough apples from local people there to be able to produce a batch of apple spirit, working with a small-scale fruit distillery in Ukraine."

Radioactive apples grow in Chernobyl exclusion zone
Radioactive apples grow in Chernobyl exclusion zone, summer season, Ukraine.
| Credit: Ihor Khomych/Getty Images

The company said that it would most likely sell the first run—"a few hundred bottles"—in the United Kingdom by the end of the year. It then amended that estimate, writing that the bottles would be available in the UK and in the Ukraine at some point this spring, but now it seems like that might not happen either.

Last week, the company reported that the Ukranian Security Services (SBU) had launched an investigation, and that their first 1,500 bottles of ATOMIK Apple Spirit had been seized by Kyiv City Prosecutors. According to the BBC, the shipment was taken from a distillery in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine. The spirit is the first consumer product that has been produced in Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone—the roughly 1,000 square mile area around the former nuclear power plant—since the devastating 1986 disaster. 

"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," Jim Smith, a University of Portsmouth professor and founding member of the Chernobyl Spirit Company said in a statement. "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."

Smith and his colleagues spent more than three years researching the radioactivity of crops grown in the Exclusion Zone, where commercial agricultural activity is banned. Under the banner of the Chernobyl Spirit Company, the scientists originally made vodka using grain from the Exclusion Zone and, although the raw grain had radiation levels that were "slightly above" the Ukranian limit, that radioactivity was reduced during the distillation process. According to the University of Portsmouth, the resulting moonshine-ish spirit was no more radioactive than "any spirit drink." 

As for the seizure of the ATOMIK Apple Spirit, the company's attorney says that it's a "clear example" of both agencies—the SBU and the local prosecutors—violating the country's laws. "The actions of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are damaging the reputation of Ukraine as an open country for doing business," Elina Smirnova said. "We still believe that the truth will win."