You are here

4.2 Operation Totem (detonations on 15 October 1953 and 27 October 1953 at Emu Field, S.A.) :

  • RAAF contribution included 10 Lincoln bombers based at Woomera and Richmond for air sampling, 2 Dakotas based at Woomera for ground contamination surveys, and air and ground crew support (6.0.16).  The home base for these aircraft was at Amberley (6.0.17).
  • RAF Totem contribution: 1 Canberra aircraft to do cloud sample ASAP after detonation (6.5.39).  This flew to/from Woomera (6.5.41).  There were extensive precautions to prevent contamination of the aircrew (6.5.51).   It flew through the Totem 1 cloud 6 minutes after detonation (6.5.54)
  • USASF also contributed 2xB29 aircraft and 2xC54 aircraft (transport), flying in/out of Richmond (6.5.42).  These aircraft did not get closer than 400 miles from ground zero (6.5.43), and their crew were equipped with dosimeters and film badges (6.0.18).
  • The following is the list of air sampling air detatchments:

82(B) Wing:Detachment A at Woomera

82(T) Wing:Detachment A at Woomera

RAF Canberra Element at Woomera

82(B) WingDetachment B at Richmond

USAF Element at Richmond

86(T) Wing at Woomera  (6.5.44)

  • Australian detachments were to undertake 3 main tasks:

Task Totem Alpha:  2 Dakotas at Woomera to conduct aerial survey of area most likely to be contaminated by Totem

Task Totem Beta:  Lincoln aircraft at Woomera and Richmond to conduct air samples through the cloud

Task Totem Gamma:Transport support (6.5.46)

  • 'RAAF personnel were not included in Radiological Safety orders for Emu, no health control procedures were instituted at Woomera and Richmond for RAAF aircraft and crews, and no personal monitoring devices were issued to RAAF personnel prior to Totem 1 (6.0.20).

  • Totem 1:

1.              'The concentration of radioactivity remained high and even aircraft obtaining samples at 1000 miles from Ground Zero were found to be heavily contaminated'(6.1.22).

2.              'The cloud was tracked by aircraft from Woomera and Richmond.  Sampling flights were also carried out by two USAF aircraft.  The cloud crossed the coastline near Townsville about 50 hours after the explosion.  Sampling flights were also carried out in the Fiji area but no activity was found.' (6.1.23)

3.              'In contrast to the careful planning of operations at Emu, no special arrangements were made to ensure the radiation safety of aircrew in Lincolns prior to Totem 1.'(6.5.32)

4.              After the Canberra landed subsequent to Totem 1  'It was then washed at least 4 times to remove radioactive particles.  This was done by 6 RAAF personnel from the ARDU who had been briefed by the RH Group at Emu.' (6.5.54)

5.              The Canberra flight crew received high does of gamma radiation, and but there was an unexplained discrepancy between the dosimeter and film badge readings (6.5.55)

6.              Canberra landed at Woomera, where decontamination did take place.  This included wash-down with solution, scrubbing and rinsing with high-pressure hose, then 48 hour isolation followed by full surface rub-down (11.1.4).

7.              3 ground crew carried out the Australian component of the decontamination, in full protective gear and using long handled brushes.  Final decontamination occurred in the UK. (11.1.4)

8.              'Unexpected contamination of the Lincolns engaged on air sampling duties occurred after the Totem 1 explosion.  Partial decontamination was carried out at Woomera under the direction of officers of the UK Radiation Hazards Group.  Further decontamination was carried out later at RAAF Amberley under the direction of two AWRE officers, Butler and Austin.' (6.0.22)

9.              Woomera Detachment A Lincolns flew through the Totem 1 cloud 400 statute miles from Ground Zero (6.5.57) - 5 Lincolns made 15 traverses in total, 2 of the aircraft spent 10 minutes in the cloud, the remaining 3 spent 30, 45, and 55 minutes respectively (6.5.59-60).

10.              Radiation contamination of Lincolns and crew was far higher than expected (6.5.61-62).  'From the official reports, it is clear that inadequate safety precautions were adopted for the aircrews who flew the Totem Beta One operations out of Woomera.' (6.5.71)

11.              Special laundry procedures, overalls, and regular personnel contamination tests were issued/conducted for decontamination personnel (6.5.64-66)

12.              'The problems which arose in the contamination of the aircraft during the flight through the cloud and the radiation exposures of the air and ground crews should have been anticipated. ...However, the weight of evidence suggests that the actual radiation doses received by RAAF air and ground crew working our of Woomera were ...within the lowest category of exposure set down in the Totem Radiological Safety Orders, with the possible exception of one ground crew member who might have received a dose just into the lower integrated dose category.  ...their exposures need to be considered in the light of contemporary knowledge of the effect of low dose levels.' (6.5.80)

13.              One Richmond Lincoln flew through the cloud west of Longreach (6.5.84).  The remaining Lincolns were subsequently moved to Townsville, and all 5 then made contact with the cloud.  Upon return to Richmond, all showed contamination (6.5.86).  After isolation, they were returned to Amberley on 20/10. (6.5.86).

14.              The USAF B29's also flew from Richmond through what was thought to be the cloud, but was found to be 'small isolated hot spots'. (6.5.88-89).

15.              Totem 1: '4 witnesses said that they had worked on aircraft at Woomera after they had returned from cloud sampling and before the decontamination system was in operation' (6.5.127)

16.              'Air and ground crew of Lincoln aircraft used for Totem 1 suffered exposure to radiation but the doses which they received are now impossible to determine accurately.  It is unlikely that the doses exceeded the level of dose which others involved in the program were authorised to receive.' (6.5.158e)

  • Totem 2:

1.              Totem 2 RAAF contribution re aircraft:  2x5 Lincoln aircraft (Woomera - air sampling), and 2 x Dakotas (ground contamination surveys) (6.5.38)..  There were no special arrangements made to decontaminate the Lincolns or their crews flying out of Woomera (6.5.52)

2.              In the case of Totem 2, only 2 Lincolns flew through the cloud, and these flew from Woomera (6.5.94)- one spent 45 minutes in the cloud, the other 1 hour, and both accessed the cloud 10.5 hours after detonation.(6.5.96).  Two other Lincolns acted as couriers (also from Woomera) but did not enter the cloud, and the USAF planes also did air sampling from Richmond (6.5.94-95).

3.              Dakota aircraft flew distant ground contamination tests subsequent to Totem 2 (6.2.1).  Ground contamination was evident up to 160 miles from ground zero (6.2.16)

4.              Both Lincolns that entered the cloud were heavily contaminated, and although the captains' dosimeters showed no significant gamma reception, lots of the flying clothing was unfit for further use (6.5.97).

5.              The B29's landed at Townsville, and contamination was considered sufficiently low for no special precautions to be taken (6.5.104).

6.              There was a radioactive laundry in use at Woomera - it was used to launder contaminated clothing (6.5.28).

  • 'Under conditions in which the wind direction was constant with height, Report A32 predicted that the fallout from a 5kt explosion would exceed the 'zero risk' level to a distance of 120 miles.' (6.2.13)
  • The Totem Alpha Task involved air search for ground contamination as a result of the Totem tests - these test were conducted by 2 Dakotas that were move to  Woomera in preparation (6.5.105-106) (a third Dakota was also moved there as a reserve craft) (6.5.108).  2  Dakotas were then moved to Emu Field, where they flew from, with a third flying from Woomera as a reserve (6.5.107-108).  The aircraft refuelled at Oonadatta, then returned to Emu Field (6.5.108).  Further surveys were conducted from Woomera, landing at Alice Springs (6.5.111), Coober Pedy, Emu Field and Tarcoola (6.5.113)
  • It is evident that ground crew at Woomera were exposed to unacceptably high levels of radiation (6.5.121-122).
  • 'Those people exposed to radiation as a result of their participation in the totem tests have an increased risk of cancer as a result of that exposure...' (6.5.158)
  • At the end of October, the aircraft from both Woomera and Richmond were flown to their home base at Amberley.  At Amberley, the aircraft, equipment and aircrew were checked prior to leaving the airfield, a decontamination laundry was set up and all personnel were checked twice daily (11.1.14-15).

  • At Amberley:

1.              By 9/11/53, only one of the aircraft was regarded as clean (11.1.16).

2.              There were recommendations for safe handling of aircraft during the decontamination period at Amberley, including use of protective clothing and monitoring, although these were discontinued by mid-November for most activities inside the aircraft, and levels of monitoring varied according to aircraft and section worked upon (11.1.18).

3.              Training was provided to personnel in radiation hazards (11.1.20), and a special decontamination centre was established in 1954 (11.1.22-23).

4.              A formal guideline re decontamination 'Radiological Safety in Relation to the Results of Atomic Explosions' was issued as a result of the Totem experience, providing guidelines re all aspects of decontamination procedures, disposal of radioactive waste, protection of personnel and procedures for personnel to adopt (11.1.24).  Amberley was to be the location of decontamination wherever possible in future.

5.              It appears that RAAF personnel who worked on contaminated Lincolns at Amberley underwent regular medical tests, wore film badges and dosimeters, with film badge results documented monthly (11.1.29).  Those personnel identified by Ravenscroft as doing most work on the contaminated aircraft are recorded as receiving does at or below set limits for all but one month the records are available for (they were slightly over one month) (11.1.30).

6.              Once the Lincolns were decontaminated, the personnel decontaminated the instrument painting section of the luminous dial area, which would have entailed significantly higher risk (11.1.30).