Is radioactive decay really exponential?
Department of Mathematics, University of Surrey - Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UK
Accepted: 25 January 2012
Radioactive decay of an unstable isotope is widely believed to be exponential. This view is supported by experiments on rapidly decaying isotopes but is more difficult to verify for slowly decaying isotopes. The decay of 14C can be calibrated over a period of 12550 years by comparing radiocarbon dates with dates obtained from dendrochronology. It is well known that this approach shows that radiocarbon dates of over 3000 years are in error, which is generally attributed to past variation in atmospheric levels of 14C. We note that predicted atmospheric variation (assuming exponential decay) does not agree with results from modelling, and that theoretical quantum mechanics does not predict exact exponential decay. We give mathematical arguments that non-exponential decay should be expected for slowly decaying isotopes and explore the consequences of non-exponential decay. We propose an experimental test of this prediction of non-exponential decay for 14C. If confirmed, a foundation stone of current dating methods will have been removed, requiring a radical reappraisal both of radioisotope dating methods and of currently predicted dates obtained using these methods.
PACS: 23.90.+w – Other topics in radioactive decay and in-beam spectroscopy (restricted to new topics in section 23) / 03.65.Sq – Semiclassical theories and applications / 02.30.Hq – Ordinary differential equations
© EPLA, 2012