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How do X-ray scanners work?

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Quick Answer

As of 2015, security personnel use two types of X-ray scanners: backscatter scanners, which emit low-energy X-rays that the body's surface reflect, and transmission scanners, which use higher-energy X-rays to reveal objects inside the body, explains Green Facts. In 2010, the Transportation Security Administration began using backscatter X-ray scanners and millimeter radio-wave scanners to screen airplane passengers, notes RadiologyInfo.org.

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Backscatter X-ray scanners require a person to stand between two large detectors, explains RadiologyInfo.org. The device then beams low-intensity X-rays at the subject for two to five seconds. The scanner creates an image within a few seconds that displays objects hidden under clothing or taped to the skin. Unlike a traditional medical X-ray machine, these scanners produce radiation that does not penetrate the body. The National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements compares the radiation received from one scan to 10 to 20 minutes of natural background radiation or two to four minutes of radiation received while travelling on an airplane.

Millimeter radio-wave scanners are the other common type of security equipment airport personnel use to screen individuals, states RadiologyInfo.org. These scanners use radio waves instead of X-rays to produce an image. A person stands in a booth while radio waves similar to those produced by a cellphone reflect into antennas that produce an image. Radio-wave scanners detect substances and items concealed under clothing.

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