Genetic effects from radiation is actually very rare, however they do happen after an excessive amount of radiation exposure like in Hiroshima. The reason why the effects are inherited is because of the original mutation of the genome. A genome is passed from parents to offspring and if that genome is mutated, that mutation will also be passed down. It is rare that it happens because often enough the mutations don’t occur on a dominant trait but on other occasions it does. It can range from just one generation to another or continually be passed on to many generations.
It would be extremely rare for a person’s entire genetic make-up to be changed by exposure to radiation. For this to happen, all of that person’s cells must be mutated in exactly the same way. So, radiation damage to most tissue is not able to be passed down. However, radiation induced mutations can occur in the reproductive organs – specivically the sperm or testes and ova or ovaries. Damage done to these cells, if they are used for procreation, could determine the complete genome of another human being, and therefore pass down a genetic mutation.
A study conducted from 1948-1954 testing for birth defects in A-bomb survivors found little evidence to support that genetic defects from radiation had been passed down to offspring. Only 0.91% of births had defects, which differed very little from the percentage of birth defects from parents with no radiation exposure.
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