ALBURQUERQUE, NM--Sandia National Laboratories has opened a new laboratory to test the ability of assemblies to withstand damaging radiation.

Sandia's Gamma Irradiation Facility (GIF) can test objects as small as microchips or as large as tanks and satellites. The facility has two 10- by 10-foot test cells, one 18- by 30-foot test cell, and a pool of water 18 feet deep for underwater experiments.

More than 2,600 cubic yards of concrete was used to construct the GIF's chambers and pool. The test cells have four-pane leaded glass windows, serpentine entryways, and concrete walls that are 6 feet thick.

Pins made of radioactive cobalt-60 make up the gamma source arrays that are used to subject test objects to radiation. The arrays move along underwater tracks beneath the cells. The arrays are automatically raised into and out of the chambers to deliver the desired dose of radiation. The arrays can deliver a radiation dose as high as 300,000 rads per hour, and tests can last seconds or months.