The main purpose of the Totem trial was to determine the acceptable limit on the amount of plutonium-240 which could be present in a bomb. The plutonium used in the original Hurricane device was produced in a nuclear reactor at Windscale.
Efforts were made to prevent nomadic Aboriginal People from entering the area around the test site, but there were thought to be no (or at most very few) people in such a dry and inhospitable environment. The precautions consisted of warnings sent to pastoral stations in August 1953, warning notices around the perimeter of the test site, and aerial and ground searches, usually within 20 miles of the site, which were made with increasing frequency as the test firings approached. The 1985 Royal Commission into British nuclear tests in Australia determined that the area was still being occasionally used and the efforts have been criticised as inadequate.
The fallout cloud from the Totem 1 shot rose to 15,000 feet, drifting east and crossing the coast 50 hours later near Townsville.Following the Totem 1 test, a black mist rolled across the landscape at the Wallatina and Welbourn Hill stations in the Granite Downs 175 km from the test site and led to unacceptably high levels of radioactive contamination of these locations. There is controversy surrounding injuries received by Aboriginal People from fallout, and in particular from this mist. Approximately 45 Yankunytjatjara people were reported to have been caught in the mist at Wallatina and fallen ill, and over half may have died.
The 1985 Royal Commission concluded that "Aboriginal people experienced radioactive fallout from Totem 1 in the form of a black mist or cloud at or near Wallatina. This may have made some people temporarily ill. The Royal Commission does not have sufficient evidence to say whether or not it caused other illnesses or injuries".