The use of Al2O3:C single crystals as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dosemeters for rapid assessment of the environmental photon dose rate is proposed. It is shown that Al2O3:C possesses higher OSL sensitivity than TL sensitivity. In TL measurements thermal quenching is a major problem that crucially depends on the heating rate used and, therefore, the all-optical nature of the OSL procedure is an obvious advantage as it obviates the necessity to heat the material thereby avoiding destruction of the luminescence signal. It is demonstrated that the exceptional high OSL sensitivity and the energy response (equal to that of quartz) make Al2O3:C ideal for measuring the environmental dose rates in connection with luminescence dating and retrospective dosimetry using natural materials and ceramics. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd.