The Totskoye nuclear exercise was a military exercise undertaken by the Soviet Army to explore defensive and offensive warfare during nuclear war. The exercise, under the code name "Snowball", involved an aerial detonation of a 40 kt RDS-4 nuclear bomb. The stated goal of the operation was military training for breaking through heavily fortified defensive lines of a military opponent using nuclear weapons. An army of 45,000 soldiers marched through the area around the epicenter soon after the nuclear blast. The exercise was conducted on September 14, 1954, at 9.33 a.m., under the command of Marshal Georgy Zhukov to the north of Totskoye village in Orenburg Oblast, Russia, in the South Ural Military District.
In mid-September 1954, nuclear bombing tests were performed at the Totskoye proving ground during the training exercise Snezhok (Russian: Снежок, Snowball or Light Snow) with some 45,000 people, all Soviet soldiers and officers, who explored the explosion site of a bomb twice as powerful as the one dropped on Hiroshima nine years earlier. The participants were carefully selected from Soviet military servicemen, informed that they would take part in an exercise with the use of a new kind of weapons, sworn to secrecy and earned a salary for three months ahead. A delegation of high-ranking government officials and senior military officers arrived to the region on the eve of the exercise, which included First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin, Generals Aleksandr Vasilevsky, Konstantin Rokossovsky, Ivan Konev and Rodion Malinovsky. The operation was commanded by Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov and initiated by the Soviet Ministry of Defense. At 9:33 a.m. on 14 September 1954, a Soviet Tu-4 bomber dropped a 40-kilotonne (170 TJ) atomic weapon - RDS-4 bomb, which had been previously tested in 1951 at the Semipalatinsk Test Site, - from 8,000 metres (26,000 ft). The bomb exploded 350 metres (1,150 ft) above Totskoye range, 13 kilometres (8 mi) from Totskoye.
Following the explosion, a Li-2 airplane was put to use on a reconnaissance mission to report the movement of a radioactive cloud produced by the blast, and the most dangerous areas were explored and marked by special reconnaissance troops. After the reconnaissance was complete and the Soviet command gained enough information on the level of radiation, the army moved in. Much attention was paid to personal safety: the participants were provided with personal protective equipment, tinted glasses or lenses for gas masks and had individual radiation dosimeters. Gamma-roentgenometers measured the level of radiation exposure in the epicentre, dosimeters were used to estimate the radiation dose deposited in an individual wearing or a vehicle after the troops completed their task, and the troops received a 'chemical alert' signal if the radiation was too high. The soldiers wore gas masks, protective suits and respirators, special gloves and capes and moved around the territory in armoured personnel carriers, holding the distance of 400-600 metres from the hypocentre and avoiding the most dangerous areas of the explosion site. A relatively low level of radiation, strong wind and the extensive use of personal protective equipment allowed them to move 400-500 metres from the epicentre, whereas tanks and armoured personnel carriers could safely get even closer.
Deputy Defense Minister Georgy Zhukov witnessed the blast from an underground nuclear bunker. The planes were ordered to bomb the explosion site five minutes after the blast, and three hours later (after the demarcation of the radioactive zone) the armored vehicles were ordered to practice the taking of a hostile area after a nuclear attack.
The residents of villages (Bogdanovka, Fyodorovka and others) that were situated around 6 km (4 mi) from the epicenter of the future explosion were offered temporary evacuation outside the 50 km (31 mi) radius and given instructions. They were evacuated by the military and temporarily accommodated in military tents. During the exercise, the residents received daily payment, while their property was insured. Those of them who decided not to return after the operation was complete, were provided with newly built four-room furnished houses near the Samarka river or obtained financial compensation. The nearest villages were generally not affected by the blast, except for a number of houses located less than 8 km (5.0 mi) from the explosion site that caught fire and burned down. Their owners received new housing.
A few days after the explosion, Soviet scientists received detailed reports on the test and began to study the impact of the nuclear blast on model houses, shelters, vehicles, vegetation and experimental animals that had been affected by the explosion. On 17 September 1954, the Soviet newspaper Pravda published a report on the exercise: "In accordance with the plan of scientific and experimental works, a test of one of the types of nuclear weapons has been conducted in the Soviet Union in the last few days. The purpose of the test was to examine the effects of nuclear explosion. Valuable results have been obtained that will help Soviet scientists and engineers to successfully solve the task of protecting the country from nuclear attack". These results were discussed at a large scientific conference at the Kuybyshev Military Academy in Moscow and for many years served as the basis for the Soviet program of defense against nuclear warfare.