During the reduction of ribonucleotides with [3H]formate by the class III anaerobic ribonucleotide reductase from Escherichia coli tritium appears in water and not in the product deoxyribonucleotide. In D2O, deuterium replaces the OH-group at carbon-2' with retention of configuration. In addition we find 1-2% deuterium in the 3'-position demonstrating a small exchange of this hydrogen with the protons of water during catalysis. Class I and II enzymes catalyze identical reactions. Members of the three classes of reductases apparently use the same chemical mechanism in spite of having completely different protein structures.