The disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in April 1986 was accompanied by the release of large amounts of radioisotopes, resulting in the contamination of extensive regions of the Ukraine, Byelorus and the Russian Federation. Cleanup workers (liquidators) and people living on land contaminated with radioactive materials were most exposed. To assess the genetic effects of exposure to ionizing radiation after the Chernobyl accident, we have measured the frequency of inherited mutant alleles at seven hypermutable minisatellite loci in 183 children born to Chernobyl cleanup workers (liquidators) and 163 children born to control families living in nonirradiated areas of the Ukraine. There was no significant difference in the frequency of inherited mutant alleles between the exposed and control groups. The exposed group was then divided into two subgroups according to the time at which the children were conceived with respect to the fathers' work at the power plant. Eighty-eight children were conceived either while their fathers were working at the facility or up to 2 months later (Subgroup 1). The other 95 children were conceived at least 4 months after their fathers had stopped working at the Chernobyl site (Subgroup 2). The frequencies of mutant alleles were higher for the majority of loci (i.e. 1.44 times higher for CEB1) in Subgroup 1 than in Subgroup 2. This result, if confirmed, would reconcile the apparently conflicting results obtained in the chronically exposed Byelorus population and the Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-bomb survivors.