UK: Revealed: Energy bosses have imported tonnes of Russian coal into the UK since the Ukraine invasion began

Two consignments of Russian coal totalling more than 130,000 tonnes have been sent from a bulk terminal near St Petersburg to the Lincolnshire port of Immingham by Germany-based energy giant Uniper.

Thousands of tonnes of Russian coal has been imported into Britain since the Ukraine invasion by the owners of a major UK power station, i can reveal. Two consignments of Russian coal totalling more than 130,000 tonnes have been sent from a bulk terminal near St Petersburg to the Lincolnshire port of Immingham by Germany-based energy giant Uniper. The company runs the 2,000MW Ratcliffe-on-Soar plant near Nottingham, one of Britain’s few remain coal-fired power stations.

An investigation by i has established that a cargo vessel on a long-term charter to Uniper, which is also one of Europe’s biggest buyers of Russian gas, made a delivery of more than 65,000 tonnes of coal to Immingham at the beginning of April, with a second identical consignment arriving off the port last week.

Uniper, formerly part of E.ON, announced last month that it would continue to use Russian coal to fuel its power stations until it ceases all its contracts with its Russian suppliers by the end of this year. The company last night declined to comment on whether its coal shipments to Immingham were being used to generate electricity at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, which has the capacity to provide power to some 1.5m UK homes.

A leading energy market analyst told i that the plant supplies the National Grid and was running this week. Critics said last night that the imports were “funding Putin’s war machine”. There is deepening concern about the continuing reliance of the UK and other European countries on Russian fossil fuels – a trade which is estimated to be earning Moscow some $1.1bn (£880m) in revenues.

Britain announced this month that it will continue to allow imports of Russian coal into the UK until the end of 2022 – nearly five months longer than the European Union, which has banned coal imports from 10 August but remains heavily reliant on Russian gas. The UK Government revealed this week that it has asked the operators of Britain’s three remaining coal-fired power stations, including Uniper, to extend the use of the facilities into the coming winter to bolster energy security, though it insisted its target of phasing out coal-based electricity generation by 2024 remained in place. Two of the stations, run by French firm EDF and Drax Group, had been due to start shutting down this autumn with only Ratcliffe-on-Soar currently scheduled to continue operating until 2024.

The Ukrainian government has repeatedly condemned Western countries for continuing to buy fossil fuels from Moscow, describing payments for Moscow’s gas and oil as “blood money”. Campaigners told i that Britain was committing a double-edged wrong by perpetuating the use of coal, considered the most environmentally damaging fossil fuel, while also allowing Moscow to profit from continued exports.

Louis Goddard, an investigator with human rights group Global Witness, said: “Less than six months ago, the UK government was loudly proclaiming a global end to coal at the COP26 conference. Today, the UK is shamefully shipping in coal from Russia, accelerating the climate crisis, financing war and showing the world this government’s true colours.”

Georgia Whitaker, oil and gas campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Every shipment of Russian coal, oil or gas that the UK imports is funding an increasingly deadly war. Even without the war in Ukraine, the UK should not be importing coal. We’re in the middle of a climate crisis and 19th-century heating methods need to be consigned to the history books.”

Uniper, which was last month forced to write off a loss of 983m euros (£833m) due to its investment in Germany’s abandoned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia, is thought to be one of the few remaining large-scale importers of Russian coal to the UK. Two major steel companies – British Steel and Tata – have already ceased imports while EDF, which runs the West Burton coal-fired power plant in Nottingham, has said it is relying on coal imported prior to the invasion. Prior to the Ukraine war, Russia was the source of 40 per cent of Britain’s coal needs.

Data obtained by i shows that the MV Crystalia, a Chinese-built bulk carrier owned by a Greek shipping company, collected two separate consignments each of 65,900 tonnes of coal this month from Ust-Luga, a coal and fertiliser terminal near the Russian border with Estonia. The Crystalia is currently operated on a charter contract by Uniper Global Commodities, a subsidiary based at the energy company’s Dusseldorf headquarters, and made its first call at Immingham on 2 April. The vessel was yesterday anchored outside the Lincolnshire port with a second consignment of 65,900 tonnes.

Adrian Ramsay, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales said: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is funding Putin’s war machine.

“By continuing to allow Russia to profit from selling oil, gas and coal to the UK, the Government is giving strength to Putin. We urgently need to wean ourselves off the oil, gas and coal that are fuelling vicious conflicts such as the war in Ukraine, and shift instead to clean and secure renewables.”

Britain has dramatically reduced its reliance on coal power in the last decade. Its share of electricity production has fallen from as much as 42 per cent in 2012 to 1.8 per cent in 2021. But a small number of coal-fired plants has been retained to provide power at short-notice amid rocketing gas prices and variations in supply provided from renewable sources.

Uniper has said it is intends to shut down one of its four coal-fired turbines at Ratcliffe-on-Soar in September, while maintaining the three remaining turbines at the site until mid-2024. The company said it was responding to Vladimir Putin’s invasion by ending its all its contracts to buy Russian coal by the end of this year and converting all its coal powered plants to ensure they will run without Russian coal by the same deadline. In a statement, Uniper said: “Uniper has taken the necessary steps to ensure its coal-fired power plants in Europe can be technically operated without Russian coal and has decided not to extend its Russian coal supply contracts. Uniper already procures hard coal from a wide variety of regions worldwide and is executing a transitional coal diversification strategy, which it expects to be completed at the end of 2022 when the existing Russian coal supply contracts are finalised.”

The Government said it had reviewed the UK’s energy security needs in the light of the invasion of Ukraine. A spokesperson said: “That’s why we are exploring slightly extending the life of our remaining coal-fired power stations to provide additional back up electricity this coming winter if needed. It remains our firm commitment to end the use of coal power by October 2024.”

How the UK uses Russian fossil fuels
The UK’s continued coal imports from Russia come as countries across Europe struggle to balance their energy needs with sanctions designed to stop Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. While Britons are facing a fuel-poverty crisis due to rising gas prices, the UK only imports around than 4 per cent of gas from Russia, making it far less dependent than Poland and Bulgaria where Russia’s Gazprom has switched off its supplies. It means the Government has avoided the heavy criticism faced by Germany over the Bundestag’s hesitancy to cut business ties with Russia. But Britain is more reliant on Russian coal and oil. The UK imports 27 per cent of its coal from Russia and 9 per cent of its oil. Russian fossil fuel imports in total were worth a total of £4.5bn in 2021.

According to Greenpeace, almost two million barrels of oil worth £220m have been imported since the war began on eight tankers – averaging one a week. The UK Government has imposed a ban on Russian owned, operated, or flagged ships from entering the UK, but other countries’ ships carrying fossil fuels from Russia can still legally dock and unload their cargo. A spokeswoman for Associated British Ports, which owns the Immingham port, said it has a “legal duty” to accept all vessels that have a legal right to be in the UK.

The Government said this month it will end imports of Russian coal and oil by the end of 2022.

The UK has been completely reliant on coal imports from Russia and other countries since the last deep coal mine at Kellingley in North Yorkshire in 2015. Uniper’s Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station is expected to be the last coal-fired power station to close in 2024. Plans are in place to turn it into a “green energy” hub.

Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said: “It never made economic or environmental sense to shut the pits while the UK was still using coal. By continuing to import coal from Russia, the UK is funding the war in Ukraine.”