Whole-body scanners have been approved for use at airports in the UK and many other countries. You may have read articles in the press about being exposed to radiation in the scanners and be particularly concerned if you fly frequently. There are different types of scanners, including some that use low dose X-ray technology.
In the UK, all security scanners now use millimetre wave technology, which has no known health risks, and which is quite different from X-ray technology. The amount of electromagnetic radiation emitted by millimetre wave security scanners is many times lower than that emitted by a mobile phone. In addition, all security scanners deployed now use automatic threat recognition software, which means that no image of a passenger is produced, thus alleviating any residual health or privacy concerns.
The UK Code of Practice for airports using whole-body scanners requires that passengers who are unwilling to be scanned are offered an alternative form of security screening. This is likely to be more intrusive than the ‘pat down’ checks you may have experienced or seen when a passenger has triggered the arch metal detector – for example, you may be taken to a private room or cubicle and be asked to remove or loosen items of clothing.
It is possible that low dose X-ray scanners may still be in use in countries outside the EU. Before the low dose X-ray scanners were introduced, their safety was checked by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and it was found that the radiation exposure poses no risk to health. To put the issue in perspective, the radiation received from the scanning process is roughly equivalent to the natural ‘background’ radiation you receive during 2 minutes flying in an aircraft or one hour on the ground.
There may be some airports where you will not be allowed to travel if you refuse to be scanned. It is therefore advisable to check with your airline and the airports you will be passing through to see if they do allow an alternative check.
For more information, please see the Department for Transport website.