The impact of a major earthquake on the evacuation of the emergency planning zone of a nuclear power plant


  • Rebecca Cohen, EIT
  • Kevin Weinisch, PE



evacuation, earthquake, nuclear, power, Plant


United States regulations require nuclear power plants (NPPs) to estimate the time needed to evacuate the emergency planning zone (EPZ, a circle with an approximate 10-mile radius centered at the NPP). These evacuation time estimate (ETE) studies are to be used by emergency personnel in the event of a radiological emergency. ETE studies are typically done using traffic simulation and evacuation models, based on traffic engineering algorithms that reflect congestion and delay. ETE studies are typically conducted assuming all evacuation routes are traversable. As witnessed in the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, an earthquake and the ensuing tsunami can cause an incident at a NPP that requires an evacuation of the public. The earthquake and tsunami can also damage many of the available bridges and roadways and, therefore, impede evacuation and put people at risk of radiation exposure. This article presents a procedure, using traffic simulation and evacuation models, to estimate the impact on ETE due to bridge and roadway damage caused by a major earthquake, or similar hazardous event. The results of this analysis are used by emergency personnel to make protective action decisions that will minimize the exposure of radiation to the public. Additionally, the results allow emergency planners to ensure proper equipment and personnel are available for these types of events. Emergency plans are revised to ensure prompt response and recovery action during critical times.

Author Biographies

Rebecca Cohen, EIT

Traffic Engineer II, KLD Engineering, Islandia, New York

Kevin Weinisch, PE

Vice President, KLD Engineering, Islandia, New York.



United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Appendix E to Part 50 - Emergency Planning and Preparedness for Production and Utilization Facilities. Title 10, Code of Federal Regulations. 2011.

Jones J, Walton F, Wolshon B, et al.: Criteria for Development of Evacuation Time Estimate Studies. Publication NUREG/CR-7002, SAND 2010-0061P. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2011.

Acton JM, Hibbs M: Why Fukushima was preventable. Carnegie Paper. World Nuclear Association, 2012.

Kawashima K, Kosa K, Takahashi Y, et al.: Damage of bridges during 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, 2012. Available at Accessed January 22, 2014.

United States Federal Emergency Management Agency: The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) Methodology for Estimating Potential Losses from Disasters 2013. Available at Accessed January 22, 2014.

Weinisch K: The DYNEV II system for evacuation planning for natural and man-made hazards. Unpublished data, 2013.



How to Cite

Cohen, EIT, R., and K. Weinisch, PE. “The Impact of a Major Earthquake on the Evacuation of the Emergency Planning Zone of a Nuclear Power Plant”. Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 13, no. 2, Mar. 2015, pp. 135-43, doi:10.5055/jem.2015.0226.