New security measures announced in the 2018-19 Federal Budget include the deployment of body scanners at major and regional Australian airports. Although the Government’s press release omitted to indicate what sort of technology will be used, Fairfax media claim the scanners will use full-body X-ray computed tomography (CT) technology.
Currently, body scanners are only located at Australian international airports. The full-body scanners at these terminals use non-ionising millimetre-wave technology. According to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s Millimetre-wave Body Scanner Health and Safety information sheet the penetration into the human body from the high frequency used in the millimetre-wave body scanner is “lower than from most other exposures encountered in daily life”. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), in its infinite wisdom, claims that these scanners – which use extremely high frequency radiofrequency radiation in the gigahertz bands – do not pose a health risk to passengers or operators. ARPANSA is equally sanguine about full-body X-ray backscatter scanners, although this technology has lost favour elsewhere. No mention is made on its website of how it views CT full-body scanners.
Selection of passengers at Australian international airports for current full-body scans is random. It is unknown whether this policy will be extended to domestic airports. Australian Business Traveller claims the new full-body scanners will replace the current metal detectors at many screening points.
Unlike policy in countries such as the USA, where passengers can usually request a pat-down to avoid a full-body scanner, refusal to be scanned in Australia means you will not be allowed to pass through the security screening point or board your flight.
Although it is unclear at this stage what sort of technology will be used to irradiate travellers, and under what circumstances, it is obvious that we will be subject to yet another source of radiation.
This physician maintains that we do not know for sure that full-body scans are safe in instances of long-term chronic exposure.
Although alternative screening processes are not normally available in Australia, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s TravelSECURE website states that an alternative is available for travellers with special needs. However, there is one catch: you must inform the security screening officer of your circumstances before you begin the screening process and be ready to provide supporting documentation.