Secular equilibrium

Secular Equilibrium

Secular equilibrium

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In nuclear physics, secular equilibrium is a situation in which the quantity of a radioactive isotope remains constant because its production rate (due, e.g., to decay of a parent isotope) is equal to its decay rate.

Secular equilibrium in radioactive decay

<!-- Image with unknown copyright status removed: -->Secular equilibrium can only occur in a radioactive decay chain if the half-life of the daughter radionuclide B is much shorter than the half-life of the parent radionuclide A. In such a situation, the decay rate of A, and hence the production rate of B, is approximately constant, because the half-life of A is very long compared to the timescales being considered. The quantity of radionuclide B builds up until the number of B atoms decaying per unit time becomes equal to the number being produced per unit time; the quantity of radionuclide B then reaches a constant, equilibrium value. Assuming the initial concentration of radionuclide B is zero, full equilibrium usually takes several half-lives of radionuclide B to establish.

The quantity of radionuclide B when secular equilibrium is reached is determined by the quantity of its parent A and the half-lives of the two radionuclide. This can be seen from the time rate of change of the number of atoms of radionuclide B:

<math>frac = lambda_A N_A - lambda_B N_B</math> ,

where λ<sub>A</sub> and λ<sub>B</sub> are the decay constants of radionuclide A and B, related to their...
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