Highlands & Islands

Catriona Munro on Chernobyl and her breast cancer

Image caption A danger sign at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear plant

Catriona Munro believes her incurable breast cancer is linked to the fall out from the Chernobyl disaster.

For a BBC Scotland documentary she has recalled how she may have been exposed to radiation and told of her fears for others whose health may also have been affected.

"I never expected to become involved in an international incident, but that's exactly what happened in late April 1986.

It was very definitely a case of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

I had been sunbathing on the roof of a student hostel in Minsk, the capital of Belarus when a radioactive cloud began spreading over Europe.

Its source? A decrepit nuclear power station 250 miles away, in a place called Chernobyl.

I was part of a group of British language students studying Russian in Minsk.

It took three days for our evacuation to be arranged, with the help of Belarussian language students.

They were sceptical about our decision to leave. Some believed we were being used by the British government to provide a propaganda coup.

Our hosts were relying on the Soviet media for information. We were relying on the BBC World Service.

They were hearing reports playing down the consequences of the accident. We were hearing reports of deaths and mass evacuations.

We were to fly home from Moscow, but not before we were subjected to a series of medical checks.

As the people of the Russian capital celebrated May Day, we anxiously awaited the results of our Geiger counter tests.

The airline which flew us home carried out more tests before we were allowed to board the plane, and forced us into unfetching grey tracksuits.

There were yet more tests when we arrived back in the UK. Doctors told us our radiation levels were 100 times higher than normal.

It seems extraordinary now, but we were then simply sent home. As the years passed, my experience became little more than a dinner party anecdote.

Image caption Catriona Munro was studying Russian in Minsk at the time of the disaster

That was until I was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, three years ago.

No-one can say for sure whether there's a link between my illness and the Chernobyl disaster.

But suddenly, I wanted to know much more about the impact of radiation on human health.

I also wanted to learn what happened to my fellow students, whose health I knew nothing about.

A quarter of a century later, I have been unable to trace them.

My personal story reflects the wider situation.

BBC Scotland's investigation Fall Out reveals a breath-taking lack of research into the health implications of Chernobyl.

There are so many unanswered questions; questions which need to be answered for my sake and for the sake of countless others."

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