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Normally, cells are controlled by the chemical structure of DNA molecules. But when radiation deposits enough energy to disrupt molecular bonds, strands of DNA are broken . While most repair properly, around a quarter don't —and so begins a long, slow process which results in an increased rate of mutations in future generations of cells. The probability of cancer increases with effective radiation dose—but, cruelly, the severity of the cancer is independent of the dose. Exposure is what counts, and it doesn't matter if the radiation level was high or low.