Experimental observations related to the initiation of plastic deformation in metals and alloys irradiated with fission neutrons have been analyzed. The experimental results, showing irradiation-induced increase in the upper yield stress followed by a yield drop and plastic instability, cannot be explained in terms of conventional dispersed-barrier hardening because (a) the grown-in dislocations are not free, and (b) irradiation-induced defect clusters are not rigid indestructible Orowan obstacles. A new model called 'cascade-induced source hardening' is presented where glissile loops produced directly in cascades are envisaged to decorate the grown-in dislocations so that they cannot act as dislocation sources. The upper yield stress is related to the breakaway stress which is necessary to pull the dislocation away from the clusters/loops decorating it. The magnitude of the breakaway stress has been estimated and is found to be in good agreement with the measured increase in the initial yield stress in neutron irradiated copper. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science B.V.