The impact of elevated ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B, 280–320 nm) on membrane systems and lipid peroxidation, and possible involvement of active oxygen radicals was investigated in leaves of two UV-B susceptible rice cultivars (Oryza sativa L. cvs IR74 and Dular). Rice seedlings were grown in a greenhouse for 10 days and then treated with biologically effective UV-B (UV-BBE) radiation for 28 days. Oxidative stress effects were evaluated by measuring superoxide anion (O2) generation rate, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) content, malondialdehyde (MDA) concentration and relative electrolyte conductivity (EC) for IR74 and Dular at 0 (control), 6 or 13 kJ m−2 day−1 UV-BBE. Significant increases in these parameters were found in rice plants grown at 13 vs 0 kJ m−2 day−1 UV-BBE after 28 days; indicating that disruption of membrane systems may be an eventual reason for UV-B-induced injury in rice plants. There was a positive correlation between O2− generation and increases in EC or MDA in leaves. Activities of enzymatic and nonenzymatic free radical scavengers were measured for IR74 after 7, 14, 21 and 28 days of exposure to 13 or 0 UV-BBE to evaluate dynamics of these responses over time. Activities of catalase and superoxide dismutase (but not ascorbate peroxidase) and concentrations of ascorbic acid and glutathione were enhanced by 13 vs 0 UV-BBE after 14 days of UV-B exposure. Further exposure to 28 days of UV-B was associated with a decline in enzyme activities and ascorbic acid, but not glutathione. It is suggested that UV-B-induced injury may be associated with disturbance of active oxygen metabolism through the destruction and alteration of both enzymatic and nonenzymatic defense systems in rice.