The purpose of this study was to determine the yield of DNA base damages, deoxyribose damage, and clustered lesions due to the direct effects of ionizing radiation and to compare these with the yield of DNA trapped radicals measured previously in the same pUC18 plasmid. The plasmids were prepared as films hydrated in the range 2.5 < Gamma < 22.5 mol water/mol nucleotide. Single-strand breaks (SSBs) and double-strand breaks (DSBs) were detected by agarose gel electrophoresis. Specific types of base lesions were converted into SSBs and DSBs using the base-excision repair enzymes endonuclease III (Nth) and formamidopyrimidine-DNA glycosylase (Fpg). The yield of base damage detected by this method displayed a strikingly different dependence on the level of hydration (Gamma) compared with that for the yield of DNA trapped radicals; the former decreased by 3.2 times as Gamma was varied from 2.5 to 22.5 and the later increased by 2.4 times over the same range. To explain this divergence, we propose that SSB yields produced in plasmid DNA by the direct effect cannot be analyzed properly with a Poisson process that assumes an average of one strand break per plasmid and neglects the possibility of a single track producing multiple SSBs within a plasmid. The yields of DSBs, on the other hand, are consistent with changes in free radical trapping as a function of hydration. Consequently, the composition of these clusters could be quantified. Deoxyribose damage on each of the two opposing strands occurs with a yield of 3.5 +/- 0.5 nmol/J for fully hydrated pUC18, comparable to the yield of 4.1 +/- 0.9 nmol/J for DSBs derived from opposed damages in which at least one of the sites is a damaged base.