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Name: Kevin R.
Status: student
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2001-2002

Would radioactive decay cease at absolute zero? I know that temperature has no effect on decay rate, but at such a low temperature wouldn't something intervene that would cause decay to not be possible?


At absolute zero, atomic and molecular motions (vibration, rotation, and translation) cease. Electrons continue to orbit atomic nuclei. Radioactivity is related to an unfavorable neutron-to-proton ratio in an atom. Temperature has no effect on the ratio. Thus, it has no effect on the rate of (likelihood) of radioactive decay.

ProfHoff 367

In general the processes that cause radioactive decay do not depend on temperature, as we typically define temperature, which is a measure of the thermal motion of atoms and molecules in solids and liquids as a whole. Radioactive decay is determined by processes occurring within the atomic nucleii of which we have only statistical knowledge.

It should also be pointed out that it is not possible to achieve 0 kelvin, even though it is possible to achieve temperatures very, very close.

There are certain chemical reactions that are induced by radioactive decay. One such reaction is the Szilard-Chalmers reaction. In those cases, one could see a temperature effect, but that is an effect on the chemical reaction, not the fundamental nuclear decay process.

Also radioactive decay has been observed at very high temperatures and until the temperature reaches a point that nuclear reactions occur, the rate of decay is independent of temperature.

Vince Calder

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