Say you have a chemical compound made up of one or more radioactive nuclei. If the nucleus decays, does the compound?

Possible outcomes I can think of:

  1. the compounds continues to exist if a bonding is still possible between the decay product and the rest of the original compound.

  2. the compound just ceases to exist.

  3. the decay product forms a new compound with some fraction of the remainder of the original one but discards some other part.

Generally, it will do whatever results in the least energetic state, but is there some kind of regularity to it?


To deduce this, You have to specify the kind of decay and the nature of the "compund" is it a crystal, a small molecule in gas phase, a organic material?

Beta decay shifts the nucleus one position upward in PSE, thus any "compound" will be transformed into a cation by loss of an electron, and whre say a iodide Ion had been, there will be an Xe atom. (which will not "fit" chemically of course)

There will be some recoil in this process, which can cause the nucleus to leave its place.

The electron will ionize everything along its path, those products of ionisation can alter/ destroy the molecule (compound) where the electron was emitted.

Similar is the case of alpha, with a strong recoil and severly ionisation. The decaying nucleus is shifted two "down" in PSE. The alpha particle will stay in the crystal, if it is big enough. Think of Helium gassing out of Pechblende when heated.

For Gamma, recoil will be less, ionisation is distributed along a long path (maybe meters)

There are special cases in crystals, when the recoil is taken not by the emitting nucleus alone, but collectively ba the crystal lattice. (Mößbauer effect)

In general, radioactive decay is so energetic, that any chemical bonds/lattice forces are broken. What happens then is very complicated and not to be answered by a simple scheme.

  • $\begingroup$ What would be the result of an atom of carbon-14 decaying in say, a molecule of methane, a molecule of glucose, or a DNA base e.g. guanine? What about an atom of phosphorus-32 decaying in the "backbone" of a DNA molecule? $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Jun 1 '14 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ The carbon 14 would become a nitrogen 14, which is a stable nuclei. However, the atom would gain a proton without gaining an electron ( the beta particle probably escapes and is not trapped into an orbital ). In the case of methane, your CH4 would become NH4+, which would be chemically stable, assuming the beta particle didn't blow any atoms out of the molecule. In the phosphorus example, P would become a S, and would be likely to break the DNA backbone, but don't worry too much, a nicked backbone in an otherwise intact DNA is easy to fix. $\endgroup$ – user137 Feb 12 '15 at 16:19

Take the instance of radioactive material like 131-I. Some atoms called excited atoms emit ionizing radiations. After ionizing radiation emission, those excited 131-I atoms become 131-Xe atoms. These excited remain in between stable iodine atoms. These stable iodine atoms remain unchanged.

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    $\begingroup$ Confused about your example... what is the compound you're talking about? 131-I decaying to 131-Xe makes sense in the context of the question, but only if it's part of a chemical compound. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Oman Jul 15 '13 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ Also, this is more of a slightly related anecdote than an actual complete answer to the question. You're posting a lot of answers to old answers in a short amount of time (which is fine), but most of the answers don't fully address the question asked (which is less desirable). Might be better to answer less questions more fully to maximize the benefit people get from the time you invest in answering. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Oman Jul 15 '13 at 19:05

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