Radioactive material flung into the atmosphere by nuclear bomb tests is helping scientists to fight the multi-million dollar trade in counterfeit antique malt whisky.
Bottles of vintage whisky can sell for thousands of dollars each, but industry experts claim the market has been flooded with fakes that purport to be several hundred years old but instead contain worthless spirit that was made just a few years ago.
Scientists have found, however, that minute levels of radioactive carbon absorbed by the barley as it grew before it was harvested to make the whisky can betray how old it is.
Researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, which is funded by the National Environmental Research Council, discovered that they could pinpoint the date a whisky was made by detecting traces of radioactive particles created by nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s.
They can also use natural background levels of radioactivity to identify whiskies that were made in earlier centuries.
Dr Tom Higham, deputy director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, says:
“It is easy to tell if whisky is fake as if it has been produced since the middle of the twentieth century, it has a very distinctive signature.”