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About CMER

We live in a radioactive world. The Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity (CMER) is dedicated to increasing scientific and public understanding of the sources, fate, and consequences of natural and human-made radioactive substances in the environment, in particular the oceans. There are more than 1,500 radioactive isotopes (radionuclides) on Earth. Most originated from the Big Bang and are naturally occurring in rocks, water, and air. Some are human-made products of the nuclear era that were released into the environment by Cold War weapons testing and accidents at nuclear power plants, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. Radionuclides have widely varying chemical and physical properties. Some have known impacts on human health; others pose risks that are misunderstood and/or overstated. Many have been used as tracers to study environmental processes and enabled revolutionary understanding of the natural world.

In the aftermath of Fukushima—after years of relative complacency—the public and policymakers have expressed renewed concerns about radioactive contamination. In addition, radioactive wastes have piled up without safe places to store them. Nuclear-fueled ships and submarines ply the oceans. The number of nuclear power plants is growing around the world. There are concerns about the spread of nuclear weapons and non-nuclear "dirty" bombs. Yet, at the same time, Cold War-era nuclear scientists and radiochemists are retiring, creating a workforce gap in the U.S. at the agency level.

Our Objectives

  • Support studies on the fate, risks, and spread of radioactive contamination in the environment
  • Provide funding for isotopic research to improve our understanding of Earth’s physical,
  • chemical, and biological processes
  • Develop improved tools to sample and detect radionuclides in the environment
  • Fund postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate grants and fellowships and visiting scholar
  • programs (including exchange programs with industrial partners) in environmental radioactivity
  • Disseminate C-MER findings through print and online publications, web sites, and lecture series
  • Promote WHOI’s radionuclide analytical facilities and capabilities to new and existing users


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has a long-standing core of scientists studying radioactive elements in the environment, as well as a world-renowned infrastructure of facilities tailored to work in the field. Building on this existing foundation, CMER will expand research and education opportunities in environmental radioactivity studies and, in partnership with other institutions worldwide, support a critical mass of scientific capability that propels breakthroughs and generates valuable knowledge that will inform the public and policymakers about the risks and benefits of ionizing radiation in the environment.