Operation Totem

Totem One Obelisk.jpg
Obelisk at the Totem One test site
CountryUnited Kingdom
Test siteEmu Field, South Australia, Australia
Period14–26 October 1953
Number of tests2
Test typetower
Max. yield10 kilotonnes of TNT (42 TJ)
Test series chronology

Operation Totem was a pair of British atmospheric nuclear tests which took place at Emu Field in South Australia on 15 October 1953. They followed the Operation Hurricane test of the first British atomic bomb, which had taken place at the Montebello Islands a year previously. The main purpose of the trial was to determine the acceptable limit on the amount of plutonium-240 which could be present in a bomb.

In addition to the two main tests, there was a series of five subcritical tests. These did not produce nuclear explosions, but used conventional explosives, polonium-210, beryllium and natural uranium to investigate the performance of neutron initiators, which the British called Kittens.


During the early part of the Second World War, Britain had a nuclear weapons project, code-named Tube Alloys,[1] which the 1943 Quebec Agreement merged with the American Manhattan Project to create a combined American, British, and Canadian project. The British government expected that the United States would continue to share nuclear technology, which it regarded as a joint discovery, but the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (McMahon Act) ended technical co-operation.[2] Fearing a resurgence of United States isolationism, and Britain losing its great power status, the British government restarted its own development effort,[3] which was given the cover name "High Explosive Research".[4] The first British atomic bomb was tested in Operation Hurricane at the Montebello Islands in Western Australia on 3 October 1952.[5]

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