The demonstration of a statistical association between paternal preconceptional irradiation and childhood leukaemia appeared to provide a satisfactory explanation for the excess of cases in the village of Seascale, close to the Sellafield nuclear installation, and became the basis of two legal claims for compensation. In the ensuing scientific debate the biological plausibility of a causal interpretation of this association focused on the heritability of leukaemia and a comparison of the genetic risks implied by this finding with current information on the induction of genetic damage by irradiation. After a wide ranging review of the mechanistic issues it is concluded that there is no genetic basis for a causal relationship and this, together with recent appraisals of epidemiological studies, suggests that the association between childhood leukaemia and paternal preconceptional irradiation exposure is most likely to be a chance finding.
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