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Ionising radiation

Environmental Radioactivity - Medicine - Occupational Radiation Protection - Nuclear Hazards Defence

Ionisierende Strahlung

Security screening of hand baggage using X-ray scanners

Baggage screening has been established worldwide to enhance air traffic security and is performed by means of so-called X-ray scanners. These X-ray scanners are designed in a way that only a very small fraction of the X-rays used for internal screening can be measured outside the machine.

Airport operators and competent authorities agree upon the fact that the use of X-ray scanners is justified as the individual and collective security gained by their employment considerably outweighs the associated comparatively low radiation exposure of an individual person.

Legal basis for hand baggage screening

In Germany, the security screening of hand baggage using X-ray scanners at airports is performed on the basis of the German Aviation Security Act (LuftSiG) which has implemented the Regulation 300/2008 in connection with 185/2010 of the European Union (EU) on civil aviation security into national law. With respect to radiation protection, the provisions of the "Ordinance on the Protection against Damage and Injuries caused by X-rays (X-Ray Ordinance, RöV)" apply for passengers and employees.

The content of the suitcase is visible Sreened suitcaseSuitcase screened by an X-ray scanner

There are comparable legal provisions for radiation protection in all member states of the European Union as every member state also has to implement the EU Directives on radiation protection into legally binding national sets of rules. Countries outside the EU base their radiation protection regulations on recommendations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).

Operation of X-ray scanners for hand baggage subject to the control of the Länder authorities in Germany

The operation of X-ray scanners for the security screening of hand baggage at airports is subject to the provisions of the German X-Ray Ordinance and to the control of the competent German Länder authorities. The employed X-ray scanners are inspected regularly by authority-appointed experts. The testing results must show that in the area surrounding the machine in which employees or other third parties may be present, the permissible annual dose limit for an individual member of the public of one millisievert (1 mSv, including pregnant women and children) is not even exceeded in the case of permanent presence.

For this reason, it is not necessary to establish radiation protection boundaries pursuant to Section 19 RöV when using X-ray scanners. That is also why employees in charge of baggage screening are not considered as occupationally exposed individuals pursuant to Section 31 RöV and thus are not required to wear a dosimeter.

Radiation dose from baggage screening is not even a problem for frequent flyers

Even under unfavourable assumptions, the radiation exposure to the passengers during hand baggage screening does not exceed 0.2 microsievert (µSv). Even for individuals who fly frequently, this radiation exposure is far lower than that received by the security personnel who are permanently present in the area surrounding the machine during a shift.

Every airline passenger is permanently exposed to naturally occurring cosmic radiation during a flight which is many times higher than the maximum possible radiation exposure during baggage screening. A radiation exposure of 0.2 µSv corresponds to the dose a passenger receives during a trans-Atlantic flight at cruising altitude within two minutes. Hence, the proportion of the dose from baggage screening is a maximum of a few per mill of the total received radiation dose during a trans-Atlantic flight.

State of 2017.05.03

© Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz