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Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2012 Oct;6(3):291-6. doi: 10.1001/dmp.2012.46.

US screening of international travelers for radioactive contamination after the Japanese nuclear plant disaster in March 2011.

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U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,1600 Clifton Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30329, USA.


On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in Japan, resulting in radionuclide release. In response, US officials augmented existing radiological screening at its ports of entry (POEs) to detect and decontaminate travelers contaminated with radioactive materials. During March 12 to 16, radiation screening protocols detected 3 travelers from Japan with external radioactive material contamination at 2 air POEs. Beginning March 23, federal officials collaborated with state and local public health and radiation control authorities to enhance screening and decontamination protocols at POEs. Approximately 543 000 (99%) travelers arriving directly from Japan at 25 US airports were screened for radiation contamination from March 17 to April 30, and no traveler was detected with contamination sufficient to require a large-scale public health response. The response highlighted synergistic collaboration across government levels and leveraged screening methods already in place at POEs, leading to rapid protocol implementation. Policy development, planning, training, and exercising response protocols and the establishment of federal authority to compel decontamination of travelers are needed for future radiological responses. Comparison of resource-intensive screening costs with the public health yield should guide policy decisions, given the historically low frequency of contaminated travelers arriving during radiological disasters.

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