### Abstract:

Mantle isochrons such as those observed for oceanic basalts in the 207Pb/204Pb vs. 206Pb/204Pb diagram do not date discrete differentiation events but are often suggested to reflect a mean age of differentiation within the mantle-crust system. The present work deals with the isotopic aspects of radioactive decay of long-lived isotopes (87Rb, 147Sm, 176Lu) in systems with multiple reservoirs. For these isotopes, the probability of decay is small compared to the frequency of reservoir jumping. Consequently, a state of secular equilibrium exists for which changes in the nuclide abundances in each reservoir balance radioactive decay and ingrowth. Here a theory is presented that predicts the characteristic time to reach secular equilibrium (relaxation time) and the secular equilibrium properties of stable, radioactive, and daughter nuclides in a pair of reservoirs of constant mass. Expressions are derived for parent/daughter ratios, such as 87Rb/86Sr, and for isotopic ratios involving a daughter isotope, such as 87Sr/86Sr. It is shown that, at secular equilibrium, the reservoirs form linear arrays in isochron diagrams. The isochron slope and intercept reflect the relaxation time and have no significance of a mean age. The derived relationships are extended to an arbitrary number of reservoirs with constant mass. In the case of 87Rb, 147Sm, and 176Lu, the relaxation times of the mantle-crust system agree with each other (1.2+/-0.1 Gy). It is therefore likely that the Earth is at secular equilibrium for these nuclides and their daughter isotopes and that no memory of the initial differentiation of the Earth is preserved in the isotope composition of Sr, Nd, and Hf of modern basalts. The kappa conundrum is a straightforward consequence of Th and U having different relaxation times in the mantle-crust system. The 207Pb/204Pb and 4He/3He ratios are not at secular equilibrium, in contrast with 206Pb/204Pb and 208Pb/204Pb. The properties of oceanic basalts in terms of the last two ratios and the Nd and Hf secular evolution curves of mantle-derived material require the presence of deep hidden reservoirs that interacts with the depleted upper mantle. It is suggested that the most fertile lithospheric oceanic plates, in particular those loaded with plume heads, preferentially sink to the bottom of the mantle. The terrestrial mantle is therefore most likely chemically heterogeneous and models of Earth compositions based on a primitive lower mantle should be abandoned. In contrast, the transient-dominated 207Pb/204Pb and 4He/3He ratios can be used to model the early differentiation of the planet.