World and Nation

Shorts (left)

Japan now equates Fukushima accident with Chernobyl

TOKYO — Japan has decided to raise its assessment of the accident at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from 5 to the worst rating of 7 on an international scale, putting the disaster on par with the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency said on Tuesday.

According to the International Nuclear Event Scale, a level 7 nuclear accident involves “widespread health and environmental effects” and the “external release of a significant fraction of the reactor core inventory.”

Japan’s current assessment of the accident puts it at level 5 on the scale, the same level as the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979. The level 7 assessment has been applied only to the disaster at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union.

The scale, which was developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and countries that use nuclear energy, requires that the nuclear agency of the country where the accident occurs calculate a rating based on complicated criteria.

—Hiroko Tabuchi and Keith Bradsher, The New York Times

Student loan debt mounts, shifting graduates’ options

Student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year and is likely to top $1 trillion this year as more students go to college and a growing share borrow money to do so.

While many economists say student debt should be seen in a more favorable light, the rising loan bills nevertheless mean that many graduates will be paying them for a longer time.

“In the coming years, a lot of people will still be paying off their student loans when it’s time for their kids to go to college,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of and, who has compiled the estimates of student debt, including federal and private loans.

Two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with debt in 2008, compared with less than half in 1993. Last year, graduates who took out loans left college with an average of $24,000 in debt. Default rates are rising, especially among those who attended for-profit colleges.

—Tamar Lewin, The New York Times

Washington mayor arrested for disorderly conduct in protest

WASHINGTON — Mayor Vincent C. Gray was arrested for disorderly conduct on Monday while protesting provisions of Friday night’s budget deal in Congress, said Linda Wharton-Boyd, his spokeswoman.

Gray joined other city representatives, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate in Congress, and city residents in a protest that blocked Constitution Avenue near the Hart Senate Office Building, his spokeswoman said.

Sgt. Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police said Gray was among 41 people arrested. Gray’s daughter paid his $50 bail, Wharton-Boyd said, and he was released from custody by Monday night.

Demonstrators protested what residents and officials here say was a sacrifice of the city’s interests in exchange for a budget deal. Democrats agreed to allow Republicans to revive a ban on the financing of abortion from local money and to impose a school voucher program that city officials say Washington does not need.

City officials, including Gray, had expressed outrage at the deal, which they called a sellout by Democrats who just two years ago helped the city remove the ban on abortion financing, which had been in place on and off since 1988.

—Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times