Secret police seize vodka made from 'slightly radioactive' Chernobyl apples

Vodka made from "slightly radioactive" apples farmed near Chernobyl has been seized by Ukrainian authorities before it could be exported to the UK. 

But the company behind the unique spirit, dubbed 'Atomik', isn't buying the government's reasons why. 

The apples were farmed inside the exclusion zone around the infamous nuclear reactor, which had a meltdown in the mid-1980s. Since then, farming in the 2600 square-kilometre Exclusion Zone has been banned. 

That hasn't stopped some from growing crops, particularly near the edges. One farmer growing illicit apples teamed up the Chernobyl Spirit Company, a joint UK and Ukrainian outfit, to prove it's safe to start growing again. 

The group's first batch - 1500 bottles - was made with apples showing "slightly" higher radiation levels than normal, but still below the Ukraine guidelines for consumption. The resulting grain spirit was 96 percent pure, and distilled with water from an aquifer about 10km south of the reactor. 

"We're currently trying to work out exactly how many thousands of years old this water is but it definitely wasn't anywhere near the surface in 1986," the company said, claiming the distillation process removed any unwanted radiation that might have been in the apples - leaving Atomik no more dangerous than any other bottle of spirits. 

The first batch was bound for the UK, but seized by the Ukrainian secret service (SBU), which accused the Chernobyl Spirit Company of using forged excise stamps.

"This doesn't make sense since the bottles are for the UK market and are clearly labelled with valid UK excise stamps," said Prof Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth, the company's founder.

"The actions of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are damaging the reputation of Ukraine as an open country for doing business," said the company's lawyer, Elina Smirnova. "We still believe that the truth will win."

Each bottle was expected to sell for around NZ$70. Most of the proceeds from the sales were intended to go towards conservation and economic regeneration efforts in the region.

"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," said scientist and co-founder Gennady Laptev, who helped clean up after the 1986 disaster. 

The Chernobyl Spirit Company reportedly won a court battle to get the vodka back, but the SBU has appealed.